Who nobbled The Times?


Date: Thu, 10 Mar 2005 21:40:49 +0000

On Tuesday an excellent feature article by Martin Samuel, entitled The Blair Witch Project, criticising the government’s policy of talking up fear of terrorism, was published in The Times. That very same evening, presumably after many of their lordships had read this article, The House of Lords inflicted the biggest defeat in modern times on a government bill, the Prevention of Terrorism Bill.

Also on Tuesday, bearing in mind that you’re mostly lefty Guardian and Independent readers, I checked to see that the article was in the on-line version of The Times, proposing to send you the URL for it. It was there all right; but by the time I got round to writing to you about it yesterday, Wednesday, though the on-line version of Tuesday’s Times was still there, Martin Samuel’s article had been removed. Ted Brown, who had originally drawn my attention to the article, was so incensed that he decided to copy type up the article for our benefit. I paste it below.

But who phoned the editor of The Times to get it removed: Downing Street, Rupert Murdoch, The White House, Mossad complaining about self-hating Jewish journalists? The mind boggles.

It is now Thursday afternoon and I hear their lordships have inflicted further defeats on the government’s Prevention of Terrorism Bill. Hooray! What it is to live in a monarchy where the aristocracy are the guardians of civil liberties! But since we seem to follow the US example in most things, shouldn’t their civil libertarian lordships now start being afraid of being delivered a little anthrax in their morning post?

Martin Samuel in ‘The Times’, Tuesday 8th March 2005, page 18


More than anything, the Prime Minister wants us to be very scared. Hence the Blair Witch Project.

One word sums up the Government’s attitude to civil liberties and its proposed anti-terrorism Bill. Boo.

Alternatively: wwwwoooooooooo. Boys and girls, we have returned to the world of bogeymen, monsters under the bed and things that go bump in the night. We cannot see them, but we know they are there. Some call Britain a nanny state; but nanny always told you there was no such thing as ghosts. Now nanny says there are. Nanny says there are hundreds. Nanny says “Don’t look behind you.” Nanny says: “Did you hear that?” Nanny says: “Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God.”

The Prevention of Terrorism Bill, or the Blair Witch Project as is should be called, is motivated by fear. For it to become palatable, you must be scared. After all, the Government is scared. But what you fear and what it fears are very different. You fear a repeat of the atrocity in Madrid; it fears a repeat of the election in Madrid. You fear the bomb; it fears the blame.

Tony Blair’s biggest fear is that he is not a clever as he is made out to be: that he took his eye off the ball. If he thinks we are so vulnerable that the only way to ensure our freedom is by surrendering it, he also knows he has the bottom-line responsibility for this farrago. He wants us scared of them because he is scared of us. Mostly, he is scared of carrying the can, of the British public waking up to a War on Terror that has been diluted, mismanaged and misdirected almost from day one.

The Blair Witch Project is an insurance policy. He has a department devoted to blame-avoidance and the timing of their Bill has their handwriting all over it. “We did all we could. We mad them stay at home. They couldn’t even use the internet. Not our fault, you see. Not our fault…” We have wasted our energy fighting an enemy that posed no immediate threat in Iraq while allowing a potentially real menace within our borders to proliferate. Our police squandered resources on ring-fenced speed cameras, spurious mission statements and phoney slogans when vital detective work was paramount. A doom-laden article by Sir John Stevens, the former head of Scotland yard, has provoked widespread alarm, but the most illuminating passage describes events immediately after 9/11.

“I remember the shock on the faces of Mr Blair and his Cabinet as experts from Scotland Yard’s Anti-Terrorism Branch, MI5 and MI6 gave their first briefing on the size of the home-grown threat. I shared that horror. As more intelligence flooded in after the invasion of Afghanistan . . . the grimmer those reports became and the more dismayed Mr Blair was.”

There was only one thing for it. Invade a country that had nothing to do with it, on information that would ensure nobody ever trusted the security forces again. At that moment, the strategy for the War on Terror went so awry that this Government is now attempting to abandon a basic human freedom to cover those tracks. Willing workers assist it. Sir John Stevens says there are 200 al-Qaeda terrorists loose in Britain. Well, were you in charge of a major crime prevention agency while this army of psychopaths was growing? No, me neither. But Sir John was. His successor as the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, is spending £300,000 renovating his office, having been in the job a month. No doubt on his retirement he will also treat us to terrifying revelations about the terrorist threat in London which he would definitely have got to grips with were it not for dry rot in the wainscoting. Step away from the Miro and do your job, Sir Ian. There is nothing to see here.

True story: post-9/11, a policeman passed on a tip to me. He said there was a café in East London that displayed recruiting posters for Islamic terrorist groups. He wondered if the newspaper would be interested. Challenged on why the police were not acting, he said they had been told to stay low-key for fear of upsetting the local community. Sir John Stevens would have been in overall charge back then. Funny how things work out. Now Sir John says opponents of the Blair Witch Project do not understand the horror of the terrorism we face. But we do, and we did. That is why, as the police declared war on school-run mums, mouthy footballers and people eating apples at traffic lights, Tony Blair’s “society of fear” begged for proper protection from violence of all kinds. That is why when the war in Iraq started before the hunt for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda ringleaders had been successfully completed, many questioned its logic and motives.

What is truly criminal is the lie that the only way the people can now be properly protected is to heave freedom on the bonfire. The proposed legislation is so extreme that those merely believing in vigorous policing, thorough investigation, quick trial and harsh sentences are the bleeding hearts. Yet why are we panicked like this? For house arrest read blame avoidance, pure and simple. If Britain is under great terrorist threat – a claim entirely unproven, yet very convenient in the circumstances, much like Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – somebody has messed up.

The Blair Witch Project is Tony’s way of saying: “Well, it wasn’t me.” Right now, far from being a structured law brought in to address the threat of al-Qaeda and its fellow travellers, Blair is not even sure how it will operate. He will not rule out using it to deal with those protesting against the G8 summit in Gleneagles, for instance, a worrying development even for staunch supporters. All we can say for certain is that the Blair Witch Project will serve its purpose. Tough on blame, tough on the causes of blame.

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