The Wizard of Aus and Newsnight
Al Hillier takes a look at the ”ËHackgate’ investigations and describes a curious and somewhat sinister introduction to the practises of the BBC’s Newsnight
So. There it was. A succession of ”Ëwitnesses’ in the ”Ëdock’ live on TV.
The seemingly endless hours of interrogation came and went and what do we know… practically nothing. The curtain had been rolled back on the Wizard of Aus and his Munchkin son by Dorothy and her friends but they revealed absolutely nothing, they knew nothing. Rebekah Brooks, knew nothing. Resigning police commissioner Stephenson and his deputy John Yates having manfully fallen on their swords over the previous weekend blustered their way through an array of questions from the select committee that got them nowhere. Unequivocal answers? None.
Commissioner Stephenson’s buck passing was gut churning. Deputy commissioner Yates defended the original investigation and side stepped seemingly irrelevant issues that were given far too much time. Result: Sub judice the best player on the park 0-0 at half time on a rain sodden pitch.
But let’s go back to Wednesday July 13th 2011.
I had been asked to appear in a small audience of 25 on Jeremy Paxman’s ”ËNewsnight’ on Wednesday July 13th 2011. The subject of this ”Ëdebate’ was going to explore voting. As the ”ËHackgate’ scandal rolled on through the week and increasingly staggered toward the ”Ëpiss and wind’ stage as announcements were yet to be made about the implementation of Police and public enquiries, listening to commentators prattling on about what we don’t know (or had yet to verify) was becoming irritating and repetitive. Allegations explored, possibilities incessantly debated, the Murdoch’s demonised, political posturing, righteous indignation abounded, it was becoming a veritable pantomime with new characters and endless possibilities emerging from the rotting woodwork in name only yet none taking the centre stage and was quite frankly, beginning to bore the crap out of me
“He’s behind you”Â.
What I wanted were some facts and some action relating to those facts which at this moment were still buried in a quagmire of speculation, not how I like to do business. It was obvious that there were very serious questions to be asked to a lot of people which, when those inevitable investigations began, would produce a few answers and some ”Ëscape goats’ as is usually the case then we can all sit back and watch the powers that be dust off the gallows and put an end to this seedy Saga in the only way they know how, once and for all.
I had decided to do my homework on ”ËVoting’ and felt armed and ready to deal with issues that I felt were obvious obstructions to why people do not vote. A long conversation with my son James (A Politics student at Uni) flushed out why we felt new voters were disenfranchised by a voting system that they know practically nothing about. Single voting issues like ”ËStudent loans’, the obvious lack of information for a vast section of society that felt that they had no stake in the political process, the closing of the gap between the political parties, the lack of clarity or availability of party manifestos and the lies they contain and the general malaise of the public who felt that they are being systematically and continually lied to. I had much, much more, I was ready.
4.30 pm Wednesday July 13th 2011.
I was sitting at my computer reading through my notes on the subject to be explored ”Ëlive’ on TV in less than a few hours when my mobile phone rang. The incoming call was unknown but I answered it anyway. It was a producer from The BBC’s Newsnight team.
“Just to let you know that we have changed the subject of tonight’s programme, we have scrapped the ”ËVoting’ issue and we are going with the Hacking scandal”Â
That was it. A week of consideration, preparation and research on the subject of Voting was now redundant. I looked at the document on the screen and pressed ”ËDelete’
I got ready, jumped in my car and switched on the radio. As I drove toward White City revelations were breaking all over the news. The P.M had just announced that a Police and Public enquiry would be imminent. Next up, Rupert Murdoch’s B Sky B deal had been pulled, it was all going on and the Hacking scandal had finally reached a point where investigation would replace speculation and the old news seemed more irrelevant than ever. The whole event that evening now seemed eccentrically pointless and I had the feeling that a lot of those involved in tonight’s ”Ëdebate’ may well feel the same. The whole subject had been dealt with; once again, the night before with an indignant Hugh Grant and now there were only scraps to mull over before the real shit hit the fan
Top Cops would now be quizzed, the main players in the story would be grilled ”Ëlive’ on TV in a public enquiry that would not pull any punches, the new revelations would be relevant, the Police evidence extrapolated by metaphorical thumbscrews, The Wizard of Aus and the News International gang would finally face the music. What was there left to discuss that wasn’t simply picking over the carcass of the weeks mouldy old news fodder
I arrived at the Westfield Shopping Centre and found my way to the upper tier parking area. This place is huge and the Parking Lot has the feel of a busy Air Craft Carrier with uniformed people scurrying about doing various things. I made my way down to the main hall and had a wander about. I was over an hour early and I had been told that the doors to the studio would not open until 8pm. I felt strangely deflated and decided to go outside on to the concourse and grab myself a cup of coffee.
As if things weren’t surreal enough I was ”Ëjoined’ on an adjacent table by magician Paul Daniels and the lovely Debbie Magee (I kid you not). I respectfully ignored them and drank my coffee browsing through a Westfield Centre site map, wondering how the fuck I was ever going to find my car again. Mr Daniels ”Ëtwittered’ on to his lovely assistant and wife in a peculiar self conscious yet gregarious manner, but I needed a cigarette, so I got up and left with a single ”Ënod’ of recognition.
7.45pm Wednesday July 13th 2011
I made my way down Wood lane toward the BBC as a chilly wind picked up. Arriving at the main reception I was directed to the door where the audience were to gather. This smaller building had the look of a cold war ”ËCheckpoint Charlie’ and upon entering it I found that it was exactly that.
All personal belongings were removed and placed into a plastic basket and passed through an X ray machine as were we. We all went through this process and were eventually escorted up into the main building.
Security was intense and at no time were we ever allowed to out of sight, even being escorted to the toilets, where security staff were posted outside and appeared on every corner. Under the circumstances this may well be necessary but this overpowering security presence was beginning to feel oppressive and as we were led to the Green Room I was beginning to feel like a prisoner which added to my deflated demeanour and set the general tone for everyone.
We were all asked to plot up on a selection of sofa’s and were informed that they wanted us all, individually, to do a small piece to camera. This was to be a one word response to the names Cameron, Clegg and Milliband, but before that, they also wanted to do a pictorial psychological profile and explained that sheets of coloured (Blue, Red, and Yellow) card would be distributed and we were asked to draw an animal on each sheet that best represented these three individuals from within the depths of our psychological and political association with them”Â¦”Â¦..First thing that comes into your head and all that malarkey.
Things were getting fucking weird and I asked the producer just exactly what they were going to use this for to which he replied that the pieces to camera might be edited and shown at the end of the show and the pictures were just an ”Ëinteresting’ insight into the great unwashed’s perception of their political leaders. ”ÂBut”Â¦who wanted to know?”Â I asked, to which he replied. “It’s just a bit of fun”Â
I was sitting with a charming, if somewhat eccentric young Scottish chick called Laura. After a brief discussion on how peculiar things were getting we just decided to just get on with it and we discussed our initial perceptions and quickly came up with the names and the characters, but by now, most, if not all of the participants were almost ”Ëspooked’ by the whole thing and in an interval before proceeding with this evaluation we had a chance to chat amongst ourselves.
The first thing that became obvious was that nearly everyone had been informed at the eleventh hour (Some, later than me) although there were some who were not informed at all, about the change of subject and most felt that the afternoons revelations had rendered further in depth evaluation of known allegations and uninformed tittle tattle almost pointless.
It was also evident that these people had prepared for a debate on voting and although we had all been subjected to the media events throughout the previous weeks and were all aware of the implications in the case, many like me felt miffed and somewhat fundamentally distracted. My head was full of facts and figures about what I wanted to impart and switching back on to this subject felt like I had crammed for a maths exam which had now been switched to chemistry.
We all completed the visual task. Mine were:
Cameron – snake. Clegg – mouse. Milliband – donkey.
Then a procession began with the participants filing across to a stool where a camera was set up. Facing the producer he asked “Cameron”Â..Clegg and Milliband and was responded to in turn.
Mine were: Cameron – snake. Clegg – irrelevant. Milliband – chancer.
With this somewhat bizarre psychological game over it was even more noticeable that the whole group were beginning to feel somewhat underhandedly ”Ëused’ but by now my interest had waned beyond redemption and what could have and probably should have been a lively debate about a fascinating subject was looking like it could turn in to a disinterested and negatively motivated fiasco. Big brother had set the tone but could Paxman rescue the vibe and get the mood on track?
We all filed out into the studio accompanied by our ”Ëguards’ and were shuffled and reshuffled amongst the seats according to an obviously well versed criteria. It appeared to me that we were being colour coded and not just with the colour of our cloths, which seemed vitally important to a classic looking BBC floor manager ”ËLuvvie’ with all the paraphernalia of his office draped around his neck. I think I even sneered openly at this quintessential self important prick as he ponced about and pontificated in his ”ËMEEJA’ self important way and as he moved to usher me to a new seat with his clammy hand I very nearly sparked him out right there.
Paxman eventually flounced in followed by a gaggle of Panellists including transport secretary Phillip Hammond, Times Journalist Danny Finkelstein, Pollster (whatever that is) Debora Mattison, Tory MP Louise Mensch (Married to Peter Mensch manager of rockers Metallica and the Red hot Chilli Peppers) labours Tessa Jowell and eventually and literally with seconds to go before the live broadcast began the creepy Simon Hughes
Paxman introduced his guests to us and looked bored and disinterested but switched it all on as the programme went live. Brief introductions and then pre recorded video took the opening into 8 minutes, then a boring conversation with the transport secretary. I was quickly losing the will to live. The videos bleating on about the same old cobblers that had been regurgitated and broadcast all week seemed lame. The events of the day were the future of this enquiry and this was most certainly the past.
The mood amongst the audience wasn’t helped by these breaks and as the VT rolled frantic studio staff wandered amongst us further destroying any concentration, continuity or focused chain of thought. The panel said nothing to each other during these breaks and only seemed to wake up as the cameras rolled live, reminiscent of aging old waxwork dummies (apart from Mensch) who had all been through the mill and had some ancient axe to grind about the intrusion of the media into their personal lives, it looked far to staged, far to drab and fucking boring. Paxman had failed to connect with this crowd and by reciprocation there was no obvious desire to engage with him in return.
Paxman finally addressed the audience and by now there was a feeling that this was just one show too many and his initial opening question was met with an almost defiant silence. Someone eventually chirped up and after other banal and matey convo’s with his guests he turned his attention once again to his battered and disinterested audience. I had decided that I could only interact in this non debate if I thought I could address something marginally new and when Paxman addressed the previous day’s interviews with alleged corrupt Policemen I formulated a makeshift point and just dived in to see what would happen.
PAXMAN: “Well politicians of all parties have seen this ”Ëscandal’ as an opportunity for parliament to reassert itself by giving voice to widespread revulsion felt by the public, but the other institution that has been tarnished is the police, who not only failed to mount proper investigations with alleged wrongdoing, but made two included in their ranks officers who took money from News International”Â
Cut to another video of Former Assistant Commissioner Andy Haymen being asked if he ever took bribes from News International and his now famous “Good God, I can’t believe you asked me that”Â Reply. Other snippets of Yates
PAXMAN: “ Right… now”Â¦ who’s been ahhh, surprised, shocked appalled, maybe not surprised, by what we’ve learned in the last few days about how the police failed to investigate these allegations and the accusations of people taking money, has anyone got a view on that”Â
A brief interjection from another participant who describes his shock at the revelations that there are some police who have been accused of taking bribes… then me.
PAXMAN “Does anyone else share that view (Looking straight at me) Yes”Â¦ Sir.Go on
ME “Well… I was shocked, but I was more shocked by the failure of the first investigation, because the amount of evidence that they had at their disposal and the way that seemed to be dropped.Emm..again, these are allegations and this may be proved in the future what’s actually really happened.
PAXMAN: “ Well it’s incontrovertible that they had the evidence
PAXMAN “And they failed to act upon it”Â
PAXMAN: “Or they had alleged evidence”Â
ME: “But we’ve never had an answer to that”Â
PAXMAN: “These are very senior Policemen who are testifying yesterday, very senior Policemen indeed, upon whose shoulders rests our security for example from terrorist attacks, did that surprise you?”Â
ME: “Um… yeah. It did surprise me actually.Um.Its easy to be cynical about it and say that, you know. The Police I suppose is a microcosm of all sorts of people and I suppose sooner or later there’s going to be a few ”Ëbent’ ones. But, you know I’m more interested in wheedling the ones out so that we can look at the Police force and try not to loose faith with it entirely and have a blinkered view of them as all corrupt because they are obviously not”Â
I stand by those comments on the basis that it is the bent coppers that must be sought out and prosecuted. The Met ”Ëis’ a microcosmic organisation that will always reflect society in general and will also have its fair share of racist, homophobic, vicious, sadistic violent, lying, bung taking, gun toting John Wayne’s and I can personally testify to that, but when I hear someone simply say that the old bill are all bent that is an assumption that simply cannot be justified or substantiated, is simply not a fact and is unbalanced and that was the simple point that I hope I made.
You average PC’s who make up the vast majority of all Police forces all over the country are doing a fairly decent job, often in very tricky circumstances and if you have travelled around the world even to some European countries and experienced the unbelievable corruption endemic in those police forces you would not want to swap them for a second, warts and all.
What we are learning as this panto is played out before our eyes is simple and that is that it is obviously so much easier to be bent the further up the tree you climb. The luxuries and benefits on offer correspond equally with what is on offer in return and that goes for MP’s and all those in a position of power and influence.
Stephenson and Yates both resigned the following weekend and I think their decision may well have been based on the possibility of further disclosure which if not criminal, may well implicate them both in this ever widening old boy’s network that has seen incontrovertible evidence not acted upon by them in reviews and suppressed as in the case file assessed as not worthy or warranting police attention and sat on for 4 years by the Legal firm Harbottle and Lewis who were employed by News International to assess the potential of damning E Mails that contained outright evidence of criminal activity within the News of the world. That act may well turn out to be criminal in itself.
I think we all believe that there is so much more to come, I just wish that programme was tonight instead of seven days ago, although having said that, I’m not sure I would have even bothered as we do not seem to be any further down the road than we were at that time.
The Wizard of Aus was finally exposed as a rambling old geezer who seems to have no idea what’s going on in his newspapers, for me, the jury is still out on that one, but if he or his son didn’t, who fucking did??, with a bit of luck we just may well find out.
Alan Hillier Wednesday 20th July 2011.