Four years ago I appeared on the Today Programme talking about Carol Thatcher and her use of the word ‘gollywog’. She had just been fired from the ‘One Show’ for having the temerity to liken someone’s hair to that of a ‘gollywog’. This is what I wrote on my blog at the time…
Chris Moyles is Radio 1’s star DJ. Two years ago he was involved, on air, in an incident which led to him being accused of racism. Halle Berry, no less, felt that he was indeed being racist. In December 2008 he faced another allegation, after he asserted that “Polish women make good prostitutes”. On neither occasion did the BBC fire him, let alone discipline him or even make him apologise. On both occasions the BBC said he was “poking fun”. Today, despite issuing a full apology, Carol Thatcher was fired by the BBC – not disciplined, but fired – from the One Show, after she likened a tennis player’s hair to that of a golliwog. It was a jokey remark made off air in the Green Room. The logic of the BBC’s argument is that the very mention of the word ‘golliwog’ is considered racist. Utterly preposterous. Whatever Carol Thatcher said off air should not have been made public by the BBC. By firing her in this manner and allowing all this to enter the public domain, they have branded her a racist when she is patently nothing of the sort. When dealing with the BBC, having the surname of Thatcher is not an advantage. However, if you are a fat, loudmouthed git with a surname of Moyles (or Ross, or Brand) you can get away with anything.
At the time, I was one of the country’s three best known bloggers, alongside Guido Fawkes and Tim Montgomerie. Deep inside Downing Street, plans were being hatched to help Derek Draper launch a blog to take on the three of us. The Left had been scratching their heads as to why people on the right dominated the blogosphere. What happened next would have massive consequences for him, his blog and a certain Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s spin doctor in Number 10. Later that day Draper (who I knew and had advised on how to launch his new site, LabourList) saw an opportunity. He effectively called me a racist for going on the Today Programme and trying to explain why a 55 year old woman might use the word without meaning it to be pejorative. This is what he wrote on the fledgling Labour List…
Ashcroft sock puppet Iain Dale has defended Carol Thatcher and the use of the word “Golliwog”. See, even the nice seeming ones are nasty underneath. On the Today programme he said Adrian Chiles must hear much worse every week. No, Iain, he doesn’t. Because he doesn’t make a habit of hanging out with racist Tories. Until Dale thinks again we are suspending his listing on our blogroll. Come on Iain, do the decent thing and admit you got this wrong.
I reacted in my usually calm and measured manner…
As my readers can imagine, I am truly bovvered. Inconsolable. Bereft. My blog won’t be able to survive without the thirty visitors LabourList has sent its way. Believe me, it’s his site which loses out if I don’t link to it, not t’other way around. And with fewer than a thousand visitors a day, he needs all the links he can get. There’s just one thing that Derek might have to explain. Just where, exactly, have I ever said that the use of the word ‘golliwog’ is acceptable. Not here, and not on the Today Programme. I have indeed tried to explain why the BBC is guilty of hypocrisy and has overreacted, but that is not the same as saying the word is nowadays ‘acceptable’.
And so it went on. I was bloody furious. Someone I had helped get his blog off the ground, and knew reasonably well, had smeared me as condoning racism. I shouldn’t have been surprised by these tactics, but I was. Scroll forward two months, to April 2009, when Guido Fawkes rang me up to tell me that Derek Draper had been acting under orders from Number 10, and Gordon Brown’s chief henchman, Damian McBride. Again, I found it difficult to believe, but Guido said he had the emails to back up the claims and would be publishing them. Wow.
Here’s what I wrote on March 27th 2009…
On the Daily Politics yesterday, Guido Fawkes made an allegation that McBride had given Derek Draper his marching orders on how to trash my reputation as a blogger, and in particular how he should smear me over the Carol Thatcher golliwog remarks. This wasn’t the first time I had heard the allegation made. I intend now to submit an FOI on this subject as I regard it as a hugely serious breach of McBride’s role as a civil servant – paid for by the taxpayer, if indeed it is true. Several people have warned me off doing this. “Let it lie,” they say. One lobby correspondent advised me: “Don’t get on the wrong side of McBride”. I’m afraid they ‘misunderestimate’ me. But I will say this. I hope Guido’s allegations are wrong and that Damian McBride can truthfully tell me that he gave no such advice to Draper either by email or verbally. But if these emails do exist, they will come to light through an FOI request. Someone else said to me that they will just delete the emails, if they exist. I reminded that person that to do so would constitute a criminal offence. It’s the kind of thing a certain Richard Nixon got into rather a lot of trouble for.
UPDATE: Guido has submitted an FOI request. In the absence of a reply from DM, I have followed suit…
This is a Subject Access Request made under the provisions of the Data Protection Act (1998).
Please provide me with copies of all emails, letters or other documents referring to either myself or my publication, “Iain Dale’s Diary”. In particular, but not exclusively, the analysis provided by you to Derek Draper and LabourList.org on the afternoon of Friday 13, February 2009.
I have copied this to the Cabinet Office Freedom of Information Unit. If you require payment of a fee please advise by return.
I should remind you that it would be a criminal offence to destroy the information requested. Please confirm receipt of this email.
On 11 April the whole scandal broke when Guido revealed the contents of emails between McBride and Draper. A day later, I wrote a column for the Daily Telegraph on the subject (read it HERE). This is how it ended…
When you’re a leader in trouble you turn to those whose undying loyalty you know you can count on. That’s why Brown was reluctant to let McBride go last September after he had been found briefing against Ruth Kelly. Instead of firing him, he moved him sideways and out of direct contact with the media. But at the same time he brought back his old ally Charlie Whelan.
Whelan is now political officer for the giant Unite union, and he funds Draper’s website. It was he who persuaded Geoffrey Robinson, the co-proprietor of the New Statesman, to dispense with the services of the magazine’s award-winning political editor Martin Bright, who was considered not onside with Brown. Whelan was also copied in on McBride’s emails to Draper as he had agreed to fund the new Red Rag blog which was to play host to the smears about Tory politicians. I suspect there is far more about to emerge about Whelan’s pivotal role at the heart of the Brown empire. If Gordon Brown really wants to bring about a new era at Downing Street, he can do several things – take away Alastair Campbell’s pass which gives him free access to the building; reshuffle Tom Watson out of Number Ten; but most significantly of all, tell Derek Draper his services as editor of LabourList are no longer required. The trouble is, our Prime Minister is wedded to the notion that seeking political conflict and dividing lines is the be all and end all. And he’s incapable of changing.
So McBride had had to quit, not just over these allegations, but also relating to similar ones against Tory MPs, including Nadine Dorries.
Eighteen months later, out of the blue I got an email from Damian apologising for what had happened. That sparked an exchange in which we both buried the hatchet. Then last year we met up for a coffee. Damian had been out of the political world for three years and was working happily for CAFOD. We met in a Costa Coffee near Waterloo. I had heard on the grapevine that Damian was planning to write a book, and I was determined to publish it. We talked it through, what kind of book it would be etc and the ramifications. We both laughed about the irony of me publishing it after all that had happened. He wasn’t totally sure about doing it but to cut a long story short we continued discussions over the last year and in March I announced that Biteback had signed up the book and it is published next week. Judging by the reaction to what Damian writes on his superb blog, it will be a huge hit. One Sunday newspaper journalist who has read it reckons it is the political book of the decade.
Damian has written the book over the last six months. In my 15 years in publishing I can truthfully say it is the cleanest manuscript I have ever read. Very few misspelling, hardly any typos and a beautiful writing style. He has been a model author and an absolute pleasure to work with. He will be denounced for raking over old coals. He will be criticised for taking the Mail’s shilling. Those who denounce him loudest are probably those who dropped him like a stone when he most needed them. I was most amused to see Alastair Campbell ranting away on Twitter last night, proclaiming that he had turned down £1 million from Murdoch. More fool him. In any case, the rights to the serialisation were mine to sell as the publisher. I am bloody proud I got the biggest political serialisation since Mandelson’s memoirs. Seven newspapers were in the bidding and the Mail won. That’s life, Alastair, get over it.
One of my colleagues at Biteback said to me earlier in the week that this was in every possible respect the best book we have ever published. I absolutely agree. It deserves to make the bestsellers lists.
Royalties from sales of the book will be split between Damian McBride’s current employers, CAFOD (the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development), and the appeal by his former employers, Finchley Catholic High School, to build a new sixth form centre.
*Power Trip: A Decade of Policy, Plots and Spin is published on 25 September in hardback. Price: £20.00
You can order a signed copy HERE