Never mind the Leveson Inquiry, with its focus on the Murdoch Mafia operation which has held successive Governments and Prime Ministers in thrall, for other parts of what used to be called Fleet Street, it is business as usual.
As Londoners go to the polls, or perhaps don’t go to the polls, it is worth reflecting on the quite extraordinary lengths the London Evening Standard, under its new editor, Sarah Sands, has gone to try and ensure a victory for her old friend, Boris Johnson. In recent days the eulogies to Johnson have reached fever pitch – Sands even interviewing the object of her weird affection in a double page spread, with the unlikely headline ‘You don’t have to be a Tory to vote for Boris’.
If this nauseating snow job wasn’t enough, replete with picture of a beaming David Cameron and tousled haired Boris, the front page headline was; “Why every city needs a Boris – David Cameron”. Elsewhere, Ken Livingstone was casually written off as a has been, and with less than helpful, probably exaggerated musings from Labour peer Lord Desai, on why Livingstone was past it.
In other pages, a council official from Tower Hamlets had her words so twisted of their original meaning that legal action may soon follow. This, for those who haven’t been following the Die Sturmer style reporting of the Evening Standard under Sarah Stands, was written as part of an ongoing and incredibly irresponsible campaign to persuade the mainly white suburbs that Muslims in Tower Hamlets are engaged in massive vote fraud. Never mind that the only two cases the Standard has so far reported on were dismissed by the police last week.
The Evening Standard has been wedded to the Boris Johnson campaign for weeks now, and part of their joint strategy has been to scare white voters with claims of vote fraud and that old hoary favourite, ‘Islamic extremism’, and lump Ken Livingstone in. In this, the Evening Standard and Boris Johnson, have been most ably assisted by another Right wing hatchet, hack, Andrew Gilligan. His daily diet of poison not only feeds into the Tory Daily Telegraph and the Evening Standard, but far Right internet sites.
Sarah Sands had been on the cusp of fleeing to the Mail on Sunday, after the Russian oligarchs who own the Standard passed her over as new editor of the Evening Standard. But she called her old friend, Boris Johnson, who went to see Evgeny Lebedev to plead on her behalf. Clearly this paid off, for Lebedev, solemnly declared “I am proud to announce that Sarah Sands is the new editor of the Evening Standard!”
That was at the back end of March, and strangely the new editor, was immediately bundled out of the Standard’s Derry Street offices for the duration of the London Mayoral contest (although she re-appeared in the week beginning April 23). Clearly even Lebedev could see that an editor appointed at the request of Boris Johnson might have some difficulty in persuading her readers that the Evening Standard could maintain ‘balanced’ coverage of the London Mayoral campaign.
Not that this stopped Sands from regularly picking up the phone and haranguing assorted hacks over their copy – especially if it gave any credence whatsoever to anything that Livingstone was doing or saying. One seasoned hack was reportedly reduced to floods of tears after Sands demanded he changed his copy to reflect yet more bile about Livingstone. References to the deafening ‘booing’ and hissing reception afforded to Johnson at an elections hustings meeting organised by ‘Operation Black Vote’ were rapidly excised from another hack’s copy, while Sand’s personally oversaw the Evening Standard investigation into alleged vote rigging in Tower Hamlets. Hacks were duly sent to camp outside the local council offices in order to beard various local luminaries, while another ES hack was dispatched to bang on the front door of the Borough’s chief executive, Aman Dalvi, in the dead of night. Unfortunately for Sands, the local authority had earlier been given a clean bill of health by both the police and the Electoral Commission.
On another occasion an Evening Standard ‘exclusive’ YouGov poll breathlessly ‘revealed’ that ‘almost eight out of ten – 78% of Londoners – believed that Boris Johnson “is fighting on behalf of the wealthy”. After ferocious complaints from ‘Team Boris’, the Standard rapidly devoured humble pie, posting a ‘correction’ the following day. Blaming itself for ‘failing to apply the correct sample weighting’, the Standard bleated:
In yesterday’s Evening Standard we said that eight in ten Londoners believed Boris Johnson was a ‘mayor for the rich’, according to a poll. In fact, the figure is 37%’. But as any fool doth know, it is hardly for the Evening Standard to determine the “correct sample weighting”; that is a job for the commissioned polling company.
If Boris Johnson wins, he will owe Sarah Sands and the Evening Standard a whole lot more than a slap up meal at the Carlton Club. For the Standard, which has an ignoble record of telling Londoners how to vote, has surpassed itself this time. Meanwhile the scandal of the editor appointed at the request of a candidate for Mayor of London, who once in the editors chair delivers all that he asks for – and more, should be the talk of Fleet Street and Westminster. That it isn’t and hasn’t been shows just how far democracy in Britain is debased.