So a wee while ago there was a meeting between La Nicla, which is defined in French dictionaries as “la femme qui puts les shiteurs up l’establaissment britannique”, and the French ambassador. The purpose of the meeting may or may not have been to have a wee laugh at George Osborne’s attempts to make political capital out of the Battle of Agincourt, but La Nicla and L’Ambassadeuse had a wee natter over some Ferrero Rocher about things that diplomatic protocol says that ambassadors and first ministers should have a wee natter about, and as is normal minutes were taken and a report was sent as a matter of courtesy to the UK Foreign Office. There is apparently no truth in the rumour that the minutes of the meeting were taken by someone on work placement from Reporting Scotland, but since the British media doesn’t feel the need to check their sources, why the hell should I?
Then yesterday amidst great fanfare a story was published in the Telegraph, a paper which prefers to overlook stories which are negative for large banks with advertising accounts in the Telegraph, claiming that the paper had received a leak of a Foreign Office memo which said that La Nicla wanted Davie Cameron to be the next Prime Minister and had said that Ed Miliband wasn’t fit for the job. This is of course directly contrary to the SNP’s entire electoral strategy, and if true would be devastating. The problem for the Telegraph is that it isn’t true. But the Telegraph was too busy rounding up the usual suspects to stick the boot into the SNP to bother checking the facts.
The paper managed to get quotes on how shocking this was from an outrage of Labour politicians – that’s the proper collective noun in case you were wondering – Labour politicos were disgusted that a party was saying one thing in public and another in private. How dare the SNP act like the Labour party, being duplicitous is Jim Murphy’s job. The Telegraph even managed to get a quote from Wullie Rennie, who was probably just pleased that anyone other than regular passengers on the number 17 bus to Kelty had noticed that he exists.
But after taking the time to ask the usual hating the SNP suspects to give quotes about how appalled they were, what Simon No-Honestly-I’m-a-Proper-Reporter Johnson failed to do was to ask anyone who was actually present at the meeting to comment on the contents of a memo which gave a fourth hand account of what was supposedly said at a meeting that the memo writer did not attend. You know, the kind of thing that budding reporters get taught in their very first class in journalism school, the class entitled “Checking sources : How to do your fucking job”.
The source in question, La Nicla, immediately denied there was any truth in the tale. The Labour party tutted, “Well she would say that wouldn’t she?” Now La Nicla may be many things, but she’s hardly likely to undermine the SNP’s entire election strategy in a meeting which is minuted, even if it were true that she wants Cameron to win the election in England, which she doesn’t.
Then the French weighed in, and denied the story with a firm, “Non, absolutemente non.” Labour said, well they would say that, what with being foreign and probably immigrants. I made that up of course, but sauce for the goose and all that. I could make up another quote from Jim Murphy at this juncture, but he was doing that quiet voice thing that he always does when he’s trying to make out that he’s a serious statesperson and I couldn’t hear him over Kezia Dugdale’s screams.
Everyone who was at the meeting or anywhere in the vicinity denied the Telegraph story even before the sole copy of the paper sold in Glasgow hit the newsstand. The only person who hasn’t denied anything, or been quoted on anything – apart from La Nicla and the French ambassador – is the Scottish Secretary of State, Alistair Koalamichael. He was the other person who met with the French ambassador that day. Alistair has been keeping his head down and has been very quiet indeed. He’s hoping no one will ask him where the memo came from.
The icing on the brioche and the need for the Telegraph’s ace reporter to, you know, do his fucking job, was illustrated by the final sentence in the very same memo that the Telegraph published in defence of a story that was deflating more quickly than Jim Murphy’s reputation as saviour of the Labour party in Scotland. The final sentence read: “I have to admit that I’m not sure that the FM’s tongue would be quite so loose on that kind of thing in a meeting like that, so it might well be a case of something being lost in translation.”
So even the un-named person who drafted the memo was uncertain about the truth of the allegation. But none of this stopped the Telegraph rushing into print with it without doing the most cursory of checks.
Despite the story being shot down in flames even before the Telegraph had a chance to be ripped up and used to light a coal fire, this didn’t stop Ed Miliband appearing on the telly to denounce the SNP on the back of a discredited tale. He’s still waving those superglued fingers. This all by itself proves that Ed isn’t fit to be Prime Minister, his willingness to associate himself with a baseless smear that is – although the superglued fingers don’t help -but then Ed learned his politics in the office of Gordie Broon, the man who saw fit to employ Damien the Omen McBride.
An official inquiry into the “leak” has been announced. It will doubtless be a whitewash. But there are serious questions to be answered here – not the least of which is who in the Foreign Office was prepared to do serious damage to the UK’s diplomatic relationship with France in order to score cheap party political points in an election. And there was us thinking that the civil service was supposed to be neutral.
But here’s the real lesson to learn from this debacle. Labour had a whole load of attacks ready to launch on social media within minutes of the Telegraph breaking the story on Friday night. So clearly Labour had been well briefed in advance that the story was going to be published. Instead of it being a story about how the SNP secretly favours the Tories, it’s now a story about how Labour is – yet again – cosying up to and colluding with the Tory establishment just like they did during the referendum campaign. Labour and the Tories, twin cheeks du même cul. Plus change, plus la même chose.
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