Did a Gang of Four set out to create Swivelgate?
Not a swivel-eyed loon, as such
The Tory Party Co-Chairman Andrew Feldman is vehemently denying that he was the person who made the “bunch of swivel-eyed loons” (BOSEL) crack about Conservative grassroots workers. He is, I’m told, considering legal action if anyone repeats the rumour. Analysis by The Slog suggests that four key players may well have been behind the alleged insult becoming infamous now…despite having been first uttered by Cameron himself some time ago.
Somebody – or more accurately, body of men – have worked very hard to inflate the swivel-eyed loons row. For starters, there are those who think Boris Johnson’s younger brother Jo is far more of a cuckoo in the Camerlot nest than the Prime Minister realises. Boris has said on several occasions in private that he and his brother Johnson “are indivisible on policy”. Within days of being appointed, Johnson the younger urged Cameron to seriously reconsider building a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary. This is, of course, his Mayoral brother’s pet project. Previous pamphlets from Jo also suggest he is at odds with his new boss.
However Downing Street tries to spin the appointment, it was a serious U-turn by David Cameron. Previously he’d employed civil servants in the role, but this time he chose a former Whip with a degree of clout within the Party. And although some see JoJo as pro-Europe, he certainly isn’t pro-Brussels: if anything, he is something of a Commonwealth loyalist with a passionate belief in the UK trading more with Asia in general – and India in particular. This is a view he shares with Nigel Farage, as well as his brother.
Before we go further by the way – because there seems to me to be deliberate obfuscation going on here – the Top Tory said local associations were swivel-eyed loons, not Backbench MPs. But some MSM on the Borishunt Fallongove wing of the Conservative Party have been blurring that distinction…with obviously mischievous intent.
The story about the BOSEL remark – while known to several hacks – was broken by one man and one man alone: James Kirkup, the deputy political editor of the Daily Telegraph. But of far greater interest to me is who started the Andrew Feldman rumour. Finger someone like Ollie Letwin (as I did yesterday) and Camerlot can just write it off as sour grapes. Finger Cameron’s co-Chairman, and you get Cameron’s biggest fund-raiser sacked….and a major row on your hands. We now have a major row on our hands. The Sundays are all over the story – including the Newscorpers – and Lord Feldman is not being helped by Grant Shapps defending him. I wouldn’t believe Shapps if he said “Good morning” to me: his business career is a trail of proven misrepresentation.
The Sun leads with ‘only 20 backbenchers loyal to Cameron’, something of a canard in that it means only twenty MPs have voted with him on every issue since May 2010. But it does make for a dramatic headline…and blurs the line I mentioned above. Camerlot’s Spin-Horse has issued a careful denial saying that “no member of the Prime Minister’s key Downing Street staff made such a remark”.
For once, however, the Mail on Sunday may be on to something. It notes, shrewdly (and accurately) that Cameron has himself made the remark before – using those exact words. I would go further: I know for a fact that he has used it about Nigel Farage – who in private gets quite excitable on the subject. Also, the respected FT hack George Parker recorded last year that the Prime Minister refers to his backbenchers in this vein at regular intervals anyway. So somehow here, a non-story has been turned into a story – why?
And how? James Kirkup posted the now infamous column at three minutes before 10 pm Friday last. He did not reveal the ‘Top Tory’ name. But Matthew Parrish alleges that the remark was made at an off-the-record dinner. If so, that tars Kirkup with unpleasant intent to make trouble – especially if he knew Cameron himself had made the remark previously.
Friday evening later on has the Guardian hack Nicholas Watt claiming that the Senior Tory made the remark ‘in earshot of journalists’ – note plural. He also wrote two further interesting comments: ‘Farage, who knows the identity of the Tory…’ and ‘…The Times, Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mirror, who all reported the remarks and who know the identity of the Tory, declined to name the senior member of the prime minister’s circle’ – again, note plural.
So Kirkup doesn’t have an exclusive. But it’s his story that breaks through. And if Farage knows the Top Tory’s identity…as he wasn’t at the dinner, who told him?
The first column I can find saying “I suspect the Top Tory’s identity will be revealed today” was posted at The Spectator’s site at 6am Saturday morning by James Forsyth. It’s hard to miss the sense in his piece that Mr Forsyth already knew the name from somewhere. He’s also relishing what’s about to follow.
At some point after this, the alleged identity of Feldman as the author of BOSEL breaks in the media. However, if you go to what I think is the best site to trace this sort of thing – NewsNow – you will see that no other MSM newspaper said anything about Feldman being the culprit until the denials began. This seems to be confirmed the Independent’s post at 1.09 pm to say ‘the party’s co-chairman Lord Feldman has rebuffed internet rumours that it was him that made the comment’. Did these internet rumours emanate from Tory Home?
By 5 pm Saturday, Kirkup was tweeting, “I have read Lord Feldman’s statement. I stand by my story. I have nothing to add”.
At 5.52 pm, Top Spectator Tory Fraser Nelson posted a column covering the Feldman and Kirkup statements.
At some indeterminate time – probably late Saturday – Tory Home published a piece by Paul Goodman which stirred the brew bigtime:
‘The key problem with the loons claim, as I point out in the Mail on Sunday today, is that many Tories think it’s what Downing Street thinks. Three very senior Ministers made it clear to me yesterday that they believe Number 10 has a very low view of Party activists. James Forsyth suggests in the same paper today that David Cameron should write to each Association Chairman to say what a good job he or she is doing – and how much their work is valued. Lord Feldman should certainly ring each one over the next few days to make it clear that this is his view.’
Let’s examine some of the key players involved in what, I am increasingly convinced, is merely another stage in the continuing determination by genuine BOSELs on the Tory Right to destabilise Camerlot. I think we can safely take Borishunt Fallongove as being sympathisers for granted, and focus on those guilty of propagation here…..if not out and out propaganda.
James Kirkup ran the story without reference to the name. He may have been involved as an initial catalyst with others. Certainly he at least sprained journalistic etiquette by running it.
James Forsyth was egging the pudding as long ago as June 2012 when he wrote in The Spectator that ‘Inside Ten Downing Street, it seems that it is becoming a question of when to announce a referendum not whether to call one’. He is close to Farage, and very much a pro-UKIP Daily Mail Tory. He is also close to BoJo.
Fraser Nelson makes no bones about seeing Cameron as ‘infected’ by pro-EU sentiments. In January, he accused Cameron in the media of lying about Britain’s national debt, describing Cameron’s broadcast about it as “so astonishingly dishonest that it really would have disgraced Gordon Brown”. He always gets a good press at Tory Home, where Paul Goodman makes many an appearance….when he’s not writing for the Daily Mail. But he’s a relatively peripheral player in this one: mainly, it seems to me, he’s doing his job.
But when it comes to Cameron, only Nigel Farage is nastier than Paul Goodman. On April 23rd, Goodman wrote a piece saying that ‘senior advisors to David Cameron are leaving in droves’. Five days ago he told readers that ‘David Cameron is heading for the exit. Enter Gove’. Last December he wrote that ‘the 2015 election is already lost’ with Cameron at the helm. Only yesterday he is reported to have said, “David Cameron has so many problems with his party because he and his entourage don’t like it very much”.
But Mr Nasty becomes Mr Nice when on the subject of UKip’s leader. ‘Many Conservative Party members have a soft spot for Nigel Farage, Ukip’s rumbustious leader’ he wrote in the Telegraph last September. ‘One in ten who voted Tory in 2010 has switched to Nigel Farage’s Ukip’ he gushed last January.
However, this excerpt from a Goodman piece two weeks ago at Tory Home might be highly significant: ‘UKIP activists in essence are, overwhelmingly, Conservatives, and many of them are former party activists. And the UKIP programme for which they campaign is in large part a Conservative one, too. Very simply, UKIP is a party of the right, and Mr Cameron ought to be crafting a tent big enough to contain voters from both the right and centre’. This reads like not so much a Freudian slip as Sigmund’s entire underwear drawer on display.
So in the classic Perry Mason manner, let us establish timing, means, and motive….in no particular order. Nigel Farage knows that the only way he can do a deal with the Tories is if its leader goes. He also knows that many Tory activists have strong Conservative sympathies. He dislikes Cameron intensely and is very bitter about the original Dave BOSEL remark which he knows was aimed at him. Nigel was stirring the pot within minutes of Kirkup’s story on Friday night, and claims to know the identity of the BOSELer on this occasion. He has mates throughout the right wing press, and is regarded by many as an insidious leaker against all opponents. So he ticks all the boxes.
Paul Goodman is a confidante of Cameron rival David Davis. He quit Parliament soon after Cameron became leader. He makes a good living as a freelance right-wing journalist for Tory Home, the Daily Mail, and the Daily Telegraph – all normally anti-Camerlot publications. He’s been upping the ante on BOSEL since yesterday afternoon, and again this morning. He supports many of UKip’s ideas, and likes its leader. Privately he thinks a Tory-UKip deal is the only way the Right can win in 2015. He has written in the past about the relationship between Tory and UKip grassroots workers. He too ticks all the boxes.
James Kirkup writes an influential column for the Daily Telegraph. He broke the story when others declined to do so…probably because the remark was made at a private dinner alleged to have been off-the-record. He hasn’t confirmed Feldman as the source, but he hasn’t denied it either. Many in both journalism and the Conservative Party would regard him as being a bit of a rotter for running the story at all. Others wonder why recycled old new at this particular time. Just look at some of his tweets and retweets since Friday on Twitter – (He’s made none since):
@MirrorJames: Tory activists are “mad, swivel-eyed loons”, declares crony of David Cameron http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/conservative-party-activists-mad-swivel-eyed-1895672 … #spitemonkeywin
Retweeted by James Kirkup
Retweeted by James Kirkup
Retweeted by James Kirkup
Retweeted by James Kirkup
I think it would be fair to say that Kirkup ticks most of the boxes.
Finally, James Forsyth looks like a catalyst at a crucial time by pushing the Top Tory identity issue early on Saturday. As with Kirkup – why now? – you have to ask with Forsyth, why move it on to another level?
Jo Johnson has the means and the motive, but he wasn’t at the dinner, and despite what BoJo says, he is nothing like his brother.
In conclusion, it looks to me like Goodman and Farage are in the frame as having hatched some form of plot. And both Forsyth and Kirkup look implicated. We shall see: but what I’d like to know specifically is how Goodman and Farage explain away one ‘story’ which contains two elments known to be personal hobby-horses: Swivel-eyed loon, and Activists. It all seems spookily convenient, doesn’t it?
Over to you, chaps.