Huckster Nation

This is Scottish Labour going through its Edgar Allan Poe phase. It’s transfixing like a multiple pile-up. You feel slightly soiled just to be observing the process, and it’s difficult to keep up with the unfolding carnage.

The deluge of sleaze has become a sort of blur as the slide of political integrity continues. Days like these make the fag-end of John Major’s government look like a fantasy of utopian political idealism. As Dougie’s Place puts it:

“The latest revelations include champagne bills being billed to the taxpayer, Labour councillors using the council chambers as a party political postal address, the salary of the head of Strathclyde Public Transport still being paid despite the fact he stood down a month ago, and a Labour quango set up by the council awarding lucrative contracts to yet more companies donating to the Labour party.”

And this without mentioning Taxi-Byers, Jim Devine’s wonderland world or Blair’s offshore millions. And yet they survive with some sort of folk-memory ushering us to hold that Labour would protect us from the Tories.

The Filthy Rich
They more than survive. According to Gerry Hassan the People’s Party  is doing very well resorting to Plan A as always which is to scare the electorate.  Just don’t look too closely at how we’ve been taken for a ride.
or look at the growth of the super-rich, including Gordon Brown’s predecessor.

It is simply astonishing that Labour can convince people that they are a party of the working people of Scotland. Yet there is consciousness and clarity for anyone who wants it.

As Craig Murray writes: “If anything can have been more sickening that that, it was Brown’s thwarting of government controls over hedge funds and private equity bubbles that cost ordinary taxpayers billions, put thousands out of work and make a small number in the City of London mega-rich.” More here.

Murray continues: “I cannot for the life of me conceive how anybody in their right mind, other than their corporate backers, can even consider voting New Labour, let alone the working people whose hopes they have betrayed.”

David Wearing responding to Anthony Barnett in the New Statesman is also succinct :

“The overriding issue – linking the banking collapse, the pressure from international finance to hastily pay off the resulting national debt by slashing public services, the expenses scandal, the News Of The World’s apparent impunity on wiretapping and the generally corrosive effect on political discourse of the corporate media – is the extraordinary and demonstrably destructive influence that small concentrations of disproportionate wealth and power have on the way our country is governed. The challenge is to wrest control of our politics – of our society – away from these concentrations of power and to build civil society vehicles capable of doing that.”

The Politics of Media Collusion
What Wearing missed out is the link between the moronic popular culture and the political inertia that holds us.  Which brings us to media collusion – and all who sail in her.

If Labour win the election it will be a triumph of stupidity. Let’s look at this month’s calamities alone:

There’s ‘Labour the Land Deal’ (a quango run by one of former Glasgow City Council leader Steven Purcell’s ex-advisers paid Labour’s biggest Scottish donor almost £700,000 in a land deal), or just pick from this (woefuly incomplete) selection: Anne Moffat, Jim Murphy, Byres, Hewitt & Hoon, David Chaytor, Elliott Morley, Jim Devine, Jack McConnell, Anne Moffat (again) and of course Steven Purcell himself.

This week Purcell told The Sun that he ‘only took cocaine four or five times’, yet managed, and this would have to be stretching credulity, to get himself caught on video, noticed by gangsters, warned by the police and to have caused concern to his colleagues.

But the problem isn’t their corruption, lack of shame or integrity, the void of coherent ideas for taking us forward, their inability to create a vision or deal with the many problems that face us – it’s our collusion in their uselessness that’s the real problem. The over-riding question still hanging over Scottish politics is what took the Scottish media so long to name Purcell’s Ritz Club?

Mandy Rhodes, the editor of Holyrood Magazine wrote perhaps the strongest piece that’s appeared on this issue last week:

“For me, one of the most scandalous things to come out so far from the sorry saga of Steven Purcell’s tragic professional demise is that so many people have admitted after the event that they knew of the altogether inappropriate behaviour of the leader of Scotland’s largest council. Politicians, journalists and lawyers alike, apparently, had direct or indirect knowledge for years about the personal habits of the leader of Glasgow City Council and chose to ignore it. It’s bad enough that the Labour Party hierarchy has failed to come out and say anything coherent, either damning or otherwise, about the allegations made against one of its own but individually, party members are singing like canaries. One high-ranking Labour insider told me that they had known for three years but kept quiet because an exposé would have damaged the brand. And that source is not alone. But much more damaging is the claim that some Glasgow-based newspaper editors actually chose to keep a lid on a story that is potentially so explosive, it threatens to not only irreparably damage one man’s life but also our whole notion of local democracy, politics and freedom of the press.

Did a misguided loyalty to a regular Friday afternoon drinking date, dubbed ‘The Ritz Club’, which included the editors of rival red tops, the Herald’s departing editor-in-chief  and Purcell himself, influence reporting of the unravelling scandal?”

Yet neither she nor the combined press pack named names. Why not? Now – finally the Scotsman in a piece by Christopher Mackie – has.

“Steven Purcell spoke exclusively to David Dinsmore, editor of the Scottish Sun, in a move that is likely to stoke suggestions of an all-too-cosy relationship with certain sectors of the Scottish media. In the aftermath of his resignation, the media storm that engulfed Mr Purcell became as much part of the story as the councillor’s dramatic fall from grace, as a PR operation was carefully orchestrated by Media House chief Jack Irvine – himself a former Scottish Sun editor. It later emerged Mr Purcell was part of a regular Friday lunch club that included Donald Martin, editor of the Herald.”

So we have Donald Martin and David Dinsmore eventually after a two-month wall of silence. Was Jack Irvine, who eventually stepped in to handle Purcell’s “crisis” PR, present at any of these lunches? Who else knew of the extent of Purcells behaviour and said nothing or caused nothing to be said?

Charles McGhee, the editor of The Herald before Donald Martin, has not yet been dragged into this affair. Has anyone studied the Herald’s coverage during his stewardship?  Former colleagues remember that when he took over The Herald as editor in 2006, he made it clear he thought that the paper had previously been too negative in its coverage of Glasgow City Council matters – to illustrate his point, he held up a cartoon by the paper’s award winning Stephen Camley, that was unflattering to the city fathers. Interestingly, Mr McGhee’s wife works as an advisor to the Lord Provost….of, yes, you’ve guessed it, Glasgow City Council.

So the next time suporters of independence are shouted down as paranoid about media control, remember this: the ‘personal tragedy’ of Purcell was more than that it, it was (and is) a political tragedy and a tragedy of a free media that makes a farce of democracy.

You can only hope that as an early member of the Labour Party itself, HH Haldane wrote: “They live upon the existing bourgeois system. They will disappear with the huckster arrangements on which they thrive”.

Comments (11)

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  1. Mike,

    Thanks for the link, but I really can’t take credit for that. Here’s the link:

  2. naldo says:

    There’s nothing uniquely sleazy about the Labour Party and anyone who thinks the Tories would be or were any less corrupt in government is kidding themself on.

    It’s power that corrupts and the absolute power bestowed by the ridiculous version of democracy operating in Westminster which corrupts absolutely.

    Let’s hope that in an independent Scotland to come, we adopt a constitution which compels openness, plurality and an end to the system of patronage so prevalent in the UK. The UK is rotten to the core and we owe it to the people living inScotland to learn from its mistakes.

  3. Leigh French says:

    Re: cronyism & conflicts of interest — might the Herald also wish to come clean about how Culture & Sport Glasgow took over the research department and text archive for Newsquest (Herald, Sunday Herald, Evening Times) resulting in job losses.

    Catherine Watson, who lost her job as a result of the outsourcing to the Mitchell Library (as managed by CSG) in March 2008, wrote about the redundancies for The Gazette : Cilip’s (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) recruitment journal; ‘Bad news for media libraries?’, 8-21 August 2008.

    (An angry Newsquest editor is understood to have resorted to screaming down the phone at CSG in an attempt to retrieve archive material out of a closed Mitchell Library — it was a Council holiday.)

    Someone interested in the rudiments of democracy might also want to ask how a privatised arm of Glasgow City Council came to be so tightly interconnected with Glasgow’s dominant media group, what with the NUJ’s Vice-President come President (06/04/08) also being the head of PR for Culture & Sport Glasgow at the time…?

    Revealed: cronyism at heart of Purcell’s council

  4. Minerva's perch says:

    Naldo. I agree with what you say but the problem is, how are we going to get from here to there? I don’t think that, post-independence, placing our “hope” in the constitutional fine-tuning of the powers-that-be is going to cut it – chances are that would simply substitute government by a Scottish elite for government by the British elite. The creation of the ‘Scottish’ Labour Party in 1994 should serve notice that, in politics, the prefix ‘Scottish’ can be used for conservative as well as progressive purposes.

    What we need, I think, is a People’s Convention for an Independent Scotland. That is, to find a means of engaging the Scottish people in a participatory debate to democratise Scotland on the understanding that independence offers the only realistic prospect for the democratisation of Scotland. The parties supporting Scottish independence should of course be invited to contribute but not to colonise the debate.

    There is a huge appetite for a new settlement in Scotland which goes beyond constitutional fine-tuning and extends to democratic economic governance, offering the potential to create a consensus in Scotland on a genuinely progressive settlement. Such a settlement would allow Scotland to escape the British disease of economic short-termism, the hegemony of the City of London, the corruption of Westminster and its sterile party politics, military adventurism and, of course, the unmerciful calculus of neo-liberalism. What a vision, Scotland an oasis of social democracy in a British neo-liberal desert! Ah well, a boy can dream.

  5. bellacaledonia says:

    Thanks for the comment Naldo. It’s not that the Tories would be or were any less corrupt in government – its just that they had different patterns of media bias. Whilst the Tories have there backs covered by panglossian tabloid cheerleaders celebrating all the same ‘values’ of the far-right, Labour and ‘Scottish’ Labour have particular backers in the wild west, and it’s this media-political coterie that’s been exposed by the Purcell ‘no story here’ coverage.

    ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’, no doubt, and no doubt too that Westminster offers a sort of Super-Size Me version of media/political nepotism and back-scratching. But the particular version in Labour ‘heartlands’ is – we believe – particulalry craven and unworthy.

  6. naldo says:

    Good shout, MP, cannae disagree with anything you suggest above. I’m a bit vague on how to achieve the openness, plurality etc. that i was bangin on about so cheers for comin up wi a bit mair detail.

    And, BC, i cannae argue that the Scottish Labour Party has become a rancid old beast, particularly in the West of this fine nation. Time to put it our of its misery – come on, ye voters!

  7. Keith McBurney says:


    Dream, imagine, work towards, realise.

  8. Davie Park says:

    The creation of a new democratic state in the pin-sharp light of the 21st century would be a very different process to the arcane black arts which characterised the 18th century augmentation of an English empire with an already well established and ‘dug-in’ ruling class.
    That in itself would make it less likely that an independent Scotland would see the pervasive hegemony of the ruling class repeated. Geographically decentralising the apparatus of Government would be of paramount importance.

    Our own imagined futures of an ideal independent Scotland are worth intellectual pursuit and may inspire others to chase their own dreams in that more promising context. Here’s hoping.

  9. Minerva's perch says:

    Davie Park.

    What an inspirational post!

    I don’t know about you but I’m quite new to this blogging lark. In fact, a week’s holiday off work has provided the opportunity for me to submit a few posts as opposed to the norm of struggling to find the time just to read the posts of others. Unfortunately, I’ll have to disappear back to the sweatshop again soon. I think with Bella, in particular, we’re all in good hands. The core of contributors here reflects the richness of talent in Scotland and how a blog can be used to disseminate enlightened thinking and thinking which, as you say, may inspire others.

    Whether anything we say here will change anything, or cause anyone to meaningfully reflect upon the possibilities of – in your well-chosen phrase – “[their] own imagined futures of an ideal independent Scotland”, who knows? I also want to believe what you say here, that the achievement of independence will secure the end of ruling class hegemony, but I’m not convinced of that one I’m afraid, though I do agree with your point about the impact of “decentralising the apparatus of Government”. That process (and I think it will be a process rather than an event) is, I think, one of the gateways to promoting a momentum for change in Scotland.

    No doubt our paths will cross again but, for the moment, many thanks for your response.

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