We’ll Never Know
This week former MP Tom Harris reassigned from the Labour Party after thirty-four years. He stood for election as Scottish party leader in 2011 and the following year was forced to resign as Labour’s “Social Media Tsar” after posting a spoof video that compared the then SNP leader Alex Salmond to Adolf Hitler. Here he is writing about Romanian and Bulgarian beggars. Here he is explaining why breaking electoral rules doesn’t matter. He led the Leave campaign in Scotland, yet here John Cawley reflects on the extraordinary lack of media scrutiny he receives.
Against my better judgment I listened to Shereen on Saturday, 4th August. Tom Harris, the gammon colossus of Scottish politics and media was on, talking about fake news, Vote Leave and the usual Scottish political malarkey. I listened, gobsmacked as Harris got away with murder on national radio. Imagine the law worked the way BBC coverage of Scottish politics does. Picture the scene…
Inspector Nanjiani of the Yard turns up at a crime scene. Democracy lies face down, multiple stab wounds in its back. A trail of bloody footprints, size ten, leads away from the body to the doorway of Message Matters. Fear not, Scotland’s top sleuth, Nanjiani is on the case. She follows the footprints into the PR company offices. Peter Duncan is wiping a large knife with old WW2 white fivers he has taken from a bag marked SUAT Dark Money. Andy Maciver is hastily polishing a pair of size ten brogues while Tom Harris stands awkwardly beside a desk in his socks. Shereen turns a desk lamp on Tom’s face and barks a question, ‘Have you got anything to do with that bloodbath outside?’
Tom hesitates, says , ‘Noooo?’ But it’s more a question than a denial. A drip of sweat courses down past Tom’s twitching right eyebrow.
Shereen says aloud, ‘Well, that’s it. We’ll never know.’
She turns on her heels, leaving Tom, Pete and Andy to exhale sharply and collapse with relief.
Too much? Well, you didn’t listen to Shereen on Saturday, August 4th.
Tom Harris was on talking about the report by Westminster’s Culture,Media and Sport Committee on fake news, alongside Alison Rowat and Marianne Taylor. Tom really didn’t want to talk about the personal matter of leaving the Labour Party after being a member for over thirty years. He didn’t want to talk about the reasons why he was leaving. It was so private and personal that he had come all the way to Pacific Quay not to talk about it. We all felt his pain.
Anyway, when the chat turned to fake news and specifically the conduct of the Vote Leave campaign, Tom had his story and, no matter how flimsy and unconvincing it was, he was sticking to it. It was a masterclass in bullshit and evasion. I will provide a précis, but you really should listen to Shereen. Shereen, one of the most influential,broadcasters in Scotland ended the discussion on lies, cheating and the breaking of electoral law by Vote Leave with the chairman of Vote Leave in Scotland by saying, ‘Well, we’ll never know.’ That was the line that sparked the impulse to write this piece.
In the same way that Trump told folk what they were seeing wasn’t happening. Harris was telling us what we knew wasn’t true. Tom wasn’t the chair of Vote Leave in Scotland, he was a ‘regional director’. To paraphrase Lee Harvey Oswald, Tom was just a patsy. Then, when Tom was taking about Dominic Cummings, Tom called him Cummings, but presumably Tom knows Dom! Otherwise, how did Tom get the Leave gig? A BBC reporter could ask Tom. Otherwise, we’ll never know!
Tom’s next trick was to say ‘they’ when talking about Vote Leave, not ‘we’. ‘They are accountable,’ said Tom in a subtle variation of ‘It wisnae me.’ But Tom need not have worried, because Nanjiani P.I was already positively disposed to this friendly witness. After all, he’s quoted at Pacific Quay.
Tom then used the classic Brexiter gambit – its not me, mammy, it’s them, by telling us that Damian Collins is a Remainer, the bastard. Tom sought sympathy for being a Leaver in the same way a guy who murdered his parents uses being an orphan as a means of getting the jury to feel sorry for him.
Anyway, Tom asserted, Remain weren’t polishing their halo while Leave were lying, stoking racism and breaking electoral law. Leave were just better at lying, stoking racism and breaking electoral law than Remain were. This is brilliant. It’s like we had just left democracy unattended. It was just lying there, so Tom stuck it up his jouk. I mean, come on, if Tom hadn’t swiped it, somebody else would have. It would have been rude not to.
Anyway, the cheating didn’t work, said Tom, breathlessly utilising a bullshit carpet-bombing strategy. ‘I reject this idea and I’ve written about it extensive.’ Those are Tom’s exact words. This is a tell, as gamblers call it when a card player gives their opponent an insight into their thinking. He meant extensively in the same way that Scottish teenagers say ‘actual’ when they mean actually. Aye we cheated, the suspect confessed. Did Nanjiani with her laser sharp, forensic wit, leap on this crack in the subject’s composure. Did she f¥#k!
The other panellists did interject with the odd unarguable statement, but Tom just kept going. In any reasonable discussion, the points made might even have been dealt with. Alison Rowat mentioned how narrow the margin of victory was and Marianne Taylor explicitly stated that Leave ‘behaved despicably’ and exploited racism. Tom, like a Duracell bunny of specious lies and bullshit, just kept going.
If Tom Harris treats the BBC the way he treated democracy during the Brexit campaign, BBC Security want to shake him as he leaves Pacific Quay and see the cutlery he’s swiped, the three-packs of bourbon creams and rich tea he’s blagged and the wee UHT milk cartons cascade from his sleeves.
How did the DUP money originating in Glasgow end up in Northern Ireland? Somebody could ask a former Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, somebody like Tom Harris. Otherwise, we’ll never know.
How can we link former Conservative candidate, Richard Cook to his former opponent in Glasgow South, Tom Harris? Maybe we could ask Tom’s Message Matters colleague, Peter Duncan?
How did we manage to end up in a situation in which we are going to end up poorer as a result of lies punted by charlatans to the detriment of our children’s futures. We could look to our national broadcaster and the privileged platform they’ve given to charlatans like Tom Harris at Pacific Quay and Rees-Mogg and Daniel Hannan on Radio 4
Otherwise, we’ll never know.