The politics of leaking.
Police sources in the West Midlands said yesterday they suspected the anonymous briefings may have been intended to deflect attention from the prisons crisis and the cash for honours inquiry, while counter-terrorism officials in London told the Guardian there was concern that the speculation generated is interfering with the investigation by the newly formed Midlands Counter-Terrorism Unit.
One counter-terrorism official warned yesterday that "an awful lot of inaccuracies" had begun to appear in the media, to the alarm of West Midlands police. "As a result of some of the speculation, police feel they have been hampered in their evidence gathering," he said.
Some of the more sensational claims about the plot - such as reports yesterday that two young British Muslim soldiers had agreed to act as "live bait" in an attempt to trap the suspects - were dismissed by counter-terrorism officials as being completely untrue. Claims that police uncovered a list of 25 intended victims were also dismissed.
The Times article on the "25 terror hitlist" mentions a "defence source", while the Sun's article stating that "beheading videos" had been found at one of the searched houses refers to a "police source". The original Sun article on the 1st of February attributes some of the information to a "senior security source".
It's therefore difficult to know who to believe, especially when previous cases have involved the police and security sources briefing and leaking on a grand scale. This might simply be a case of the police trying to pass the buck onto the government for some of their officers going off the record without permission, exasperating their superiors and this is their message to them to shut up. That said, probably the last place the police would talk to about their concerns over leaking would be the Guardian if their own officers were responsible.
On the case against the government, the Times and the Sun often are the favourite papers to leak to, mainly because they're the most sympathetic to their cause. It also would be far from unprecedented for journalists on both papers to have lied about the sources for their stories. The Sun was also the newspaper that was fastest to react to the whole story breaking - within hours the political editor of the Scum had written his highly detailed piece, alleging that those arrested had been involved in a plot to behead a serving Muslim soldier. If it was sources inside the Home Office and Downing Street who have in fact been behind the briefings, then it makes a mockery of John Reid's appeals for restraint; it goes without saying that Reid, a former communist thug, should be only trusted as far as he can be thrown.
None of this, as BlairWatch also points out, necessarily means that the plot didn't exist. It may however turn out to have been a lucky coincidence for a government that has been grasping at anything to deflect attention away from the incompetence at the Home Office and from the continuing fallout from the loans for peerages inquiry. It also shows the hypocrisy of this government: whining and angry about alleged leaks from Yates of the Yard, yet at the same time more than happy to smear men within hours of their arrest. David Miliband's words about the Yates' inquiry are therefore heavy with irony:
Mr Miliband maybe ought to point this out to those who are ultimately responsible for the briefings.
Not that any of this has stopped leaks either from the police or the government. Today's Scum has yet another apparent "exclusive", this time from a "police source":
A MUSLIM soldier at the centre of an alleged kidnap plot may be sent to Iraq — because he is SAFER there than in Britain.
A police source said: “It has been spelled out to him that he remains a terrorist target while he stays in this country.
“Some of the suspects who allegedly targeted him are in custody — but others slipped the net.
“Obviously there are many dangers in Iraq but he will be part of the massive British contingent and will have no fear of the UK-based terrorists who singled him out here.
“The soldier feels he would be safer serving in Iraq with his comrades at the moment than walking around his own neighbourhood.”
Sounds like utter rubbish, unless it was indeed the soldier's own idea. No one has any idea where he's being kept, and seeing as the security sources have dismissed the idea that those arrested had a list of up to 25 Muslim soldiers, there's also not a security breach from within the MoD. Trying to suggest that he'd be safer in Iraq is to ignore completely the situation over there, even in Basra (At least 135 were killed in Baghdad today in the latest bloody massacre). The real reason for why he'd want to instead go back to Iraq is so he could escape the no doubt suffocating security that has been placed around him - they don't so much as let you take a piss in peace.
On then to two incidents of shameless sycophancy; one from the Sun, one from Martin Kettle.
It's almost as if Alastair Campbell himself was writing the Sun's editorials. The blame for what has happened to Labour, and why it's now in the doldrums is everywhere except on Blair himself. It's the "hostile" BBC, the endless police investigation and the "plotters", even though it's obvious that there are no plotters. It pretty much sums up Blair's own attitude to what's gone wrong, and what the solution is: more of the same. Despite all the evidence that he is the problem, that it's the policies that he wants the party to continue with that are causing the apathy, Blair has more than made clear that like Thatcher, he's not for turning. The Sun, which is supposed to know when someone's finished, and when to switch support, appears to have lost its political nous. Whether this is down to Murdoch's apparent sniffiness towards Cameron, his advance in years, or Wade's own political illiteracy is unclear.
The Chancellor had better order his supporters to heel. He has waited long enough for the top job. A little longer won’t hurt.
Everyone who wants Tony to go now is a Brown supporter. It's a smear, a straw man argument that the Sun delights in. That anyone with half a brain can see that the longer Blair stays the more the party will suffer doesn't come into it.
This is where dear old Martin Kettle enters. It appears that he read yesterday's Sun editorial, because he uses surprisingly similar language in urging the Yates' inquiry to come to an end:
A long police inquiry is neither illegal nor uncommon. But this inquiry is also profoundly sensitive in a way that cannot be dismissed as irrelevant. This case involves the elected government of the land - as well, do not forget, as the financing of all the major parties and the legislature of the nation. It is therefore a challenge not merely to Tony Blair - of whom we may or may not approve - but to the general polity. There is more than one public interest at stake. If crimes have been committed then those who are charged must of course answer for them. But there is also a public interest in the maintenance of our system of government - a system that is generally good, not bad. The longer the investigation goes on, the more the question of proportionality comes into play. That is why it is time for the police to put up or shut up.
In fact, it's more than just the Sun's leader which Kettle seems to have plagiarised - his opening gambit, comparing the investigation into the poisoning of Litvinenko to the Yates' inquiry, was one that as a commenter notes, was made on this week's Question Time.
There's a relation which both Kettle and Blair share - both are being drawn inexorably into becoming increasingly apologetic - in yesterday's interview with John Humphrys on the Today programme, Blair's previous sheen, his indomitable belief in himself and in his ability to get out of any scrape purely through putting his own side across had almost entirely gone AWOL. He just about survived, mainly because Humphrys didn't push him as hard as perhaps Paxman would have, but it may well turn out to be a watershed moment. Blair made clear that he knows that the public no longer trust him, but that everything's OK because he trusts him, which just about sums up his own various levels of delusion and arrogance in continuing to cling on to power.
It's the same with Kettle. He must realise that the more apologia he pens for Blair, the more that his own readers begin to mock him, which is exactly what they do on the CiF thread, but he still believes that it's the right thing to do nonetheless. The difference is that Blair can end the humiliation for the both of them, while Kettle can only keep boiling himself over with indignation for all the prime minister's critics.