Bell Pottinger is a predictable new dimension to the case.
There is only one real truth in this affair: the system needs radical reform
There’s an interesting piece in the Torygraph this morning by Matthew D’Ancona – not usually my favourite journalist, but he must be right this time, because he’s summed up very well what I was on about last night: Adam Werritty behaved like he did, say’s D’Ancona’s headline, because he could. Right on the money: the system is a ghastly farrago of incompetent pinstripes and rogue advisers, and it needs a new broom very badly indeed. Sadly, I don’t think, as I posted yesterday, that Philip Hammond is that broom.
There are two broader observations to make too: the first is that the affair highlights uncomfortably clearly a major Coalition problem: it simply isn’t, on the whole, a radical force. Camerlot’s style is to manage problems, and then shuffle them gently offstage; it isn’t to solve them. And secondly, I make the same point now I made about David Laws’ removal from power shortly after the Election: setting the rights and wrongs to one side, the Coalition’s other major weakness is that, beyond the electorate, nobody likes it.
Whether this be closet homophobes at the Maily Telegraph, scorned liberals at the Guardian, leaky Right-wingers in the Tory Party, or truculent LibDems urinating perilously close to the tent, in cases like these the Cameron government gets it from all sides with both barrels. As you’d imagine, the discomfiture of the Cameroons in not a subject for sorrow on my part – but rather, dismay: I don’t like the forces doing the demolition, if only because I don’t like what any of them might put in its place.
Let’s take what I call the Highgate Left for starters. This morning’s coverage once again obsessively drivels on about the neocon movement in the US, the Israeli military, Mossad and several other descriptions with one group heading: people we don’t like in Highgate. I’m not a neocon or a fan of the Israeli military, but compared to Ken Livingstone’s rogue-elephant antics with Arab regimes and the IRA in he 1980s, this is tame stuff indeed. I repeat once again, Werritty was not being ‘run’ by Mossad, an organisation far too professional to take such a trougher seriously. I’m pretty confident now that they used his access to Fox, but then Fox wasn’t exactly an Islamist in the first place.
Then there’s the Right and their quasi-tabloid queasy bollocks about ‘donors’ fury at lavish lifestyle’ and pissups in Dubai. Out of the limelight, they sign up fully to the Liam Fox Weltanschauung, but he’s a key player and someone whose demise will put Number Ten in a fix – so let’s stick the knife in. That Vince Cable, he’s just a closet Socialist and a troublemaker, but Dave daren’t lose him: let’s tape him secretly mouthing off about Murdoch. Boy, did that one backfire on the Kingdom of Sark.
Next – and of key importance – the pillocks in the MoD, dragooned by Fox into making cuts to the letter of the law, have never forgiven him. And like all Civil Servants, they will freeze out anyone from outside The Firm given half a chance. In the 15 months since he took the job, the Secretary of State showed no sign at all of going native. But my gut feel, based on such information as I’ve been able to glean, is that the MoD mafia used the Sam Giancana Kennedy assassination strategy in this instance: cut off the head to get rid of the right arm who’s squeezing your balls. The pinstripes’ main target was always Adam Werritty.
So who is Adam Werritty? Well, the very fact that we have to ask that question shows just how many briefers are playing games on a dizzying number of levels. He’s a fantasist, he’s James Bond, he’s a pro-American Nazi, he’s a con-man, he’s a booby, he’s Liam’s bumboy, he’s seen by Mossad as Fox’s Chief of Staff. This is not exactly what you’d call character continuity, and the reason is simple: Werritty’s multiply schizoid ‘character’ simply represents a variety of motives. If you’re hard Left, he’s a Mossad agent; if you’re pro-Fox, he’s a harmless Walter Mitty; and if you’re a Labour MP or the MoD, he’s an incompetent fraudster muddying the waters of British foreign policy. I have to say, if that last is true, then many others with bigger sticks strode into the water long before Mr Werritty.
Which does indeed bring us to the Labour Party, and what seems to have been a comprehensive briefing by those specialising in long-term helicopter storage. John Mann (who still hasn’t responded to my calls) popped back onto the radar last night, more or less to say that Fox’s best man could well be the the quintessence of evil incarnate. Media contacts think Blair-haters in the FCO briefed him, but I can’t verify that: Mann is anyway very pro-Blair. But just as Anthony Eden saw Nasser as another Hitler , the ever-paranoid FCO monkeys perhaps did see Werritty as another Blair. (Bearing in mind that Blair’s off-piste personal foreign policy involved embracing both Bush and Gadhaffi, I do find it spendidly hysterical now to watch Kevan Jones the arch veteran-denier fulminating on the subject of ‘rogues’).
However, the disturbing bluebottle in the greasy ointment of hypocrisy is that this story has been around for a while, without attracting much interest. Indeed, ask around outside the bubble – say, in the pub this lunchtime – and you’ll find that most real people are bored with the affair already. But something got our legislators wound up during September and October. Enter the public affairs consultancy Bell Pottinger.
I was tipped off about Bell’s involvement on Friday evening, although had I looked harder I’d probably have found it in the blogosphere before that. But as always with Tim Two-noses, trying to get a steer on the game his outfit have been playing can be like lassoing ether.
Bell Pottinger has a whopping £3million contract with the Sri Lankan Government to rebuild its standing as a grown-up nation following the civil war there. And as it happens, Adam Werritty and Liam Fox were also building contacts in that country. From there onwards, opinions differ sharply as to who likes whom and did what and why.
The popular blog Harry’s Place sort of tangentially offers the view that Bell Pottinger was one of several firms ‘trying to block the UN investigating accusations of war crimes, in the aftermath of the war with the Tamils’. I’ve no idea if there is any truth to that allegation, although the consultancy has been known to work with some seriously unsavoury characters over the years. But as reported widely a year ago, Bell does have the consultancy contract referred to above. The FT in turn revealed that a ‘Trust’ set up by Werritty (himself hired by the Sri Lankans with Fox’s overt help) seems to have been created as a shell within which Bell and Werritty could provide consultancy in tandem. Given (I understand) that Fox was quite rightly told to sling his hook primarily on the basis of this episode – which really was disgraceful behaviour for a Minister of the Crown – some people have been led to wonder how various sectors of the press and the Labour Party found out about it.
The general line in the blogosmear seems to be that pro-Fox articles have been pouring forth from Bell Pottinger all week….ie, that Tim Bell was keen to save Fox’s neck. But not everyone agrees.
Tim Bell himself, when appointed a year ago, piously observed to the BBC that “….I must tell you all our client contracts are commercially confidential – consequently we cannot supply the information you seek”, when Auntie started poking around as to what his company might really be doing in Sri Lanka. Last week, however, he gave some very interesting answers when probed about the ‘arrangements’ in Sri Lanka.
“I’m not aware that any activity exists yet or that anybody has invested any money in [the Trust],” he said coyly. And as to what Adam Werritty might be doing, he added: “I do not know an answer to your question. I can understand why you are asking.” “Thanks a lot, Timothy – I’ll do the same for you some day,” would probably be my response, were I the multi-faceted Adam Werritty.
This is what I’ve been able to piece together from old stagers not as yet lucky enough to have escaped the business. Tim Bell has worked with Liam Fox before, whose robust Thatcherite views he shares. But little and brightly-plumed birds allege that there isn’t a lot of trust between Bell Pottinger and Liam Fox’s Chief of Staff/bumboy/sex toy/conman/Mossad agent (choose depending on viewpoint).
“It looks like a turf war,” said one source close to the issue, “Werritty is a chancer and a shark. The word is that he’s been trying to muscle in on Tim’s account. In which case, he chose the wrong man to cross in Lord Bell.”
And on the whole, a chancer and a shark is pretty much where my head is now on Liam Fox’s ethereal advisor. Like many a wide-boy before him, Adam Werritty appears prone to overconfident, brass-neck bragging, shoving and pushing. I have always said that Fox is a pillock, and he truly must have a large blind (or soft) spot when it comes to his close friend. He deserved to go, and I’m sure the task of government will be lightened in every respect by Werritty’s absence hereafter. Like I say, it’s the motives that worry me, not the outcome.
It would be previous of me to assert with confidence that much unattributable briefing has been carried out by Tim and/or his associates in recent weeks. But for someone with his skills, history and personality, the possibility of this wouldn’t surprise anyone in the communications sector.
So there we have it: good riddance, allegedly. But let’s just review for a second or two what took place here.
Once more, lobbying has been allowed to let filthy lucre into the equation. The Slog’s view remains radical and unchanged: we must get all money – lobbying and Party support – out of politics at the first opportunity. It is far, far more trouble than it could ever possibly be worth to the vast majority of the electorate.
Once more, disloyally discreet Mandarins have helped to push out a Minister who wouldn’t do their bidding. In hiring Werritty (and being so brazen about it) Liam Fox presented the MoD hobgoblins with a massive target and an excellent excuse to stuff the Secretary of State. An opportunity they took with alacrity.
And once more, the Labour Party has acted in an incredibly hypocritical manner in criticising both a policy and a practice that applied as much if not more to their Administration of Defence – not to mention illegal bungs for Saudis, and overt interference in the conduct of the enquiry into it by a sitting Prime Minister.
The lesson is clear, and the answer obvious: clear out the lobbyists, get rid of the current Civil Service model, toughen up the monitoring of Ministerial behaviour – and in the medium term, get somebody uncompromising, knowledgeable and focused in charge of the Defence portfolio.
None of these things will happen, because – as I wrote at the outset – we have a compromising (and compromised) Government in power within an Establishment that will always fight tooth and nail to defend its dysfunctional privileges. So perhaps, in some ways, we should be thankful for the coming economic disaster….and its ability to assist in the process of sweeping it all away.