Media,  UK Politics

Did Gordon Brown Try to get Martin Bright Sacked?

Martin Bright, political editor of New Statesman, ended his blog post on the “Weekend Round-Up” of the to-ing and fro-ing in the Labour Party with the rather crypic comment:

As someone who has experienced at first hand the inept mafioso tactics of Brown’s political gangsters, I could not agree more.

What could this mean? Well, since Martin Bright has opened the door a crack, let’s review some of the speculation that has been circulating for a number of months.

Difficulties for Bright, as we all know, started when he produced a critical documentary for Channel 4’s Dispatches programme on former London Mayor Ken Livingstone. The documentary, The Court of Ken (which, for those who missed it is on YouTube here) criticised Livingstone on very solid social democratic grounds: his use of a clique of Trotskyists to run London, his obsession with Jews, his embracing of a ultra-reactionary Islamist cleric, the accusations of corruption surrounding his associates, and – most importantly – his contempt for democratic accountability.

Word has it, Gordon Brown went beserk.

Even though Brown hates Livingstone, he wanted him to defeat Boris Johnson. Defeatist though it may sound, it was generally believed that a Tory-run London would be seen as a dress-rehearsal for a Tory-led Britain.

Now, every politician wants to control the press. Usually their attempts to do so are futile and embarrassing.  But in this case, Brown believed he had a good chance. You see, the owner of New Statesman is Brown’s friend and ally, Geoffrey Robinson. Robinson, of course, is also the Labour MP for Coventry North West.

Enter Charlie Whelan. Whelan, Brown’s former spin-doctor was apparently tasked with getting Martin Bright fired in retribution for his exposé on Livingstone. A hate campaign ensued and soon trade unions were drafted in as muscle, threatening to withrdraw their advertising from New Statesman unless Martin Bright was given the boot.

By April, Private Eye was onto this story, and identified what has saved Bright’s bacon so far:

CHARLIE WHELAN, Gordon Brown’s former spin doctor, still acts as an enforcer for his old boss and at the British Press Awards was on his usual thuggish form. Late in the evening, when Whelan was a little tired and emotional, he was introduced to Vanessa Thorpe, the Observer’s arts correspondent. “I’m sure we’ve met before,” said Whelan. Thorpe explained that she was the partner of Martin Bright, the New Statesman’s political editor. “In fact,” she added, “Martin and I have just got married.”

Whelan’s face darkened. Brown’s aides hate Bright because he investigated allegations against Ken Livingstone in a documentary for Channel 4 and then compounded the offence by writing articles for the Statesman that were insufficiently adulatory about the Great Helmsman.

The Staggers is of course bankrolled by Geoffrey Robinson, the wealthy Labour MP and one of Brown’s oldest friends, and Whelan duly gave Thorpe and listening hacks a rambling monologue in which he insisted her husband and the father of her two children should be fired. “I’m no fan of Livingstone, but Martin Bright should not be political editor after what he did,” he said. “I’m going to talk to Geoffrey… He can’t allow criticism of Gordon. If Geoffrey’s got any sense, he’ll listen.”

Whelan did not know it, but Brown’s power base at both the Statesman and at the Robinson-funded Smith Institute nextdoor, a Broonite think tank, is crumbling. Michael Danson, a self-made millionaire, now owns 50 percent of the Statesman and Robinson the other half. They must both agree on important decisions, and Danson is very unhappy about politicians telling him who he can and cannot hire. Not only is he not firing Bright, but Bright is actually applying to become the next editor.

Michael Danson’s presence has saved Bright for the time being. However, the demands for Bright’s head have not abated. On Friday, Labour journal Tribune noted:

RANCOUR in the ranks at the New Statesman where new editor Jason Cowley is adopting the old Fleet Street ways with his new broom and axing the magazine’s columnists in what one victim describes as a “bloody massacre”. Mr Cowley, late of briefly editing Granta, even tried to ditch the weekly column penned by political editor Martin Bright, who at one time was tipped for the top job. Mr Bright’s column, which is usually the only item appearing under his name, has apparently survived due to the fact that it is protected by contract. Watch that renewal date. Discord has been stirred further by Mr Cowley’s decision to delegate the dirty work to the acting editor for nine months, Sue Matthias, who is both popular among the staff and is considered to have improved the politically barren organ while in the editor’s chair. He is now known as Jason Cowardly.

Thanks to Gordon, New Statesman will now be a political weekly whose political editor is not allowed to write a column because he offended far-left Trotskyists who were in an alliance with far-right Islamists.

The setting of the attack dogs on Martin Bright shows what poor judgement Gordon Brown has. Livingstone is a politician who showed no loyalty at all to Labour: running against its candidate in 2000, and filling the top positions up with members of the extremist and anti-Labour political party, Socialist Action. For the sin of pointing this out, Martin Bright was targeted by the Broonite spin machine for sacking.

My guess is that that Martin Bright’s career as a political journalist will long outlast Gordon Brown’s sojourn at Number 10.