The truth about Andrew Gilligan

The Telegraph man’s links to Iran.

As predictably as night follows day, Andrew Gilligan has responded on his Telegraph blog to my interview with the mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, last week. I suspected he wouldn't be able to resist.

For those of you who haven't followed Gilligan's illustrious career since his role in "outing" Dr David Kelly, it's worth being aware that, these days, the former BBC reporter is obsessed with "Islamists" and, in particular, Rahman. By my count, he has published about 15 blog posts on Rahman on the Telegraph website over the past month: that's a ratio of one post every two days.

Obsession, perhaps, is an understatement. The man who came to global prominence by helping to expose the British government's lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction is now "cyber-stalking" a local politician in the East End of London. How the mighty fall.

I'll come on to Gilligan's own links in a moment, but first, let me quickly deal with his blog post about my interview. Gilligan mocks what he describes as my "fearless and probing interview" of Rahman. If he and his friends in the right-wing, Islam-obsessed, McCarthyite blogosphere bothered to read the magazine, they'd know that the weekly "NS Interview" isn't designed to be Paxman-esque. It's a Q&A format that caters for interviewees as diverse as Rahman and Osama Bin Laden's son, on the one hand, to Russell Brand and Sienna Miller, on the other.

And the truth is, as the transcript of the full interview with Rahman shows, I still managed to question the mayor on all the main allegations against him (from his religious beliefs to his alleged links to "extremism" to the smear campaign against his Labour opponent) and, for the first time, we hear the man himself respond to each and every claim. But I guess Gilligan and his friends don't want to hear the mayor put his side of the story, or defend gay rights, or publicly confirm his belief in secularism; they'd rather stick their fingers in their ears and chant, "La la la la, we can't hear him!" Why bother with debate or discussion, when caricatures and smears serve you better?

In fact, on the secularism point, Gilligan chooses to quote selectively from the interview (I guess nothing's changed since the Kelly affair), writing on his blog:

Sample extract:

Q: Do you believe in a secular Britain?

A: I do.

Phew! So that's all right, then!

Umm. That's not a "sample extract". This is:

Do you believe in a secular Britain?

I do. I live in a society based on a clear division of powers between the church and the state. Yes, I absolutely believe in a secular society.

But what else should we expect, I suppose, from a journalist who long ago became a propagandist for Boris Johnson and the Tories and has since been accused of "sockpuppeting", ie, creating, in the words of Wikipedia, "a false identity through which a member of an internet community speaks with or about himself or herself, pretending to be a different person". (See here, here and here for details.)

Gilligan says on his blog that I have "form on defending the IFE [Islamic Forum of Europe]" even though I clearly stated, in a debate with Gilligan on Sky News over the summer, that I didn't agree with the IFE agenda but that I'd rather trust the opinion of grass-roots groups such as London Citizens, which work with and support the IFE, than his own biased and selective "journalism". I also challenged Gilligan to define Islamism in a coherent or consistent manner, live on air, which he was (surprise, surprise) unable to do.

In fact, in a previous blog post, in March, Gilligan included me among the "allies of Islamism". I'm not sure how many allies of Islamism have criticised the concept of an "Islamic state", denounced suicide bombings in Palestine and questioned Islam's illiberal apostasy laws, but here's a question: if I'm an ally of Islamism, then what's Andrew Gilligan? Lest we forget, the man is a paid employee of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He hosts his own show on the state-funded English-language Iranian broadcaster, Press TV. (For the record, let me just point out here that, like Oliver Kamm, Iain Dale, Martin Bright and others, I have also occasionally appeared as a guest on Press TV – but not as a presenter! And, of course, I don't spend my whole life hunting for Islamists, as Gilligan seems to.)

Here he is, interviewing his old enemy Ken Livingstone on Press TV:

As even the Spectator's Rod Liddle, Gilligan's friend, supporter and former boss, wrote in July 2009:

So what's he doing – Gilligan – working for Press TV, the international propaganda channel run by the Iranian government?

Liddle continues:

"I'm not going to give you my reasons if you're just going to rip the piss out of them," he says on the phone from his holiday in the West Country.

"Well, how can I know if I'm going to rip the piss out of them before I've heard them, Andrew?"

He sighs a lot. I hope he is sighing because he knows he's done a bad thing rather than because he's been found out. He explains that at first he thought that Press TV was an agreeable symptom of social change and greater openness in Iran, though he adds, "I may have been wrong about that." He says he has not worked for Press TV since the election and that its post-election coverage has been "flawed" (no kidding, dude). He "might" not work for it ever again. And how much did they pay you, Andrew?

"Not that much."

How much, exactly?

"I'm not going to tell you that."

Why not?

"Because I don't want to. It's private."

Sources at Press TV tell me Gilligan is among the highest-paid, if not the highest-paid, employee at the channel. So, let's get this straight. Gilligan is a journalist who makes lots of money from "outing" as many British Muslims as he can as "Islamists" or "extremists", often on deeply dubious grounds, and with the aid of selective quotation, yet at the same time also makes lots and lots of money working for a foreign country that is explicitly, openly and proudly Islamist and based on the rule of the clerics and a version of sharia law.

In the aforementioned quote in the Spectator, by the way, from June 2009, Gilligan says he "might" not work for the channel ever again. But, of course, he didn't stop working for the channel. The above YouTube clip is from a Gilligan show broadcast on Press TV this year, in the run-up to the general election.

Isn't that ironic? The man who obsesses about Islamists under every British bed is himself a paid, high-profile employee of an an openly Islamist government: the mullahocracy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Hilarious. And, of course, deeply hypocritical. (Unless, of course, Gilligan believes that the Tower Hamlets council under the leadership of Lutfur Rahman is more "extreme" or dangerous than the Iranian state. Judging by the volume of his blog posts on the subject, perhaps he does. But I, for one, haven't yet spotted anyone being stoned to death on the streets of east London.)

So, Andrew, I ask you: when will you quit your lucrative job at Iranian-owned Press TV? And, until you do so, how can any of us take seriously your repeated complaints about the advance of "Islamism" in Britain? Feel free to leave your answers (excuses?) in the comment thread below the line – either as yourself, or perhaps in sockpuppet form. Cheers.

UPDATE:

I want to make a correction to this post. Andrew Gilligan has been in touch to make clear that he quit as a Press TV employee in December 2009 and no longer works for the channel – apart from two one-off shows that he presented for them in the run-up to this year's general election.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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This election has sparked a weird debate – one in which no one seems to want to talk

 The noise level hasn’t risen above a low gurgle in the background.

If this is a general election in which the tectonic plates are shifting, they’re the quietest tectonic plates I’ve ever heard. All the parties are standing on pretty radical platforms, yet the noise level hasn’t risen above a low gurgle in the background, like a leaking tap we can’t be bothered to get fixed.

Big issues are being decided here. How do we pay for care, or health, or education? How do we square closed borders with open trade, and why isn’t anyone talking about it? Democracy is on the line, old people are being treated like electoral fodder, our infrastructure is mangled, the NHS is collapsing around us so fast that soon all that’s left will be one tin of chicken soup and a handful of cyanide capsules, and we face the prospect of a one-party Tory state for decades to come. All this and yet . . . silence. There seem to be no shouts of anger in this election. It’s a woozy, sleepy affair.

I knew something was afoot the moment it was called. Theresa May came out of No 10 and said she was having an election because she was fed up with other parties voting against her. No one seemed to want to stand up and tell her that’s a pretty good definition of how functioning democracy works. Basically, she scolded parliament for not going along with her.

Why were we not stunned by the sheer autocratic cheek of the moment? With news outlets, true and fake, growing in number by the day, why was this creeping despotism not reported? Am I the only one in a state of constant flabbergast?

But the Prime Minister’s move paid off. “Of course,” everyone said, “the real argument will now take place across the country, and we welcome,” they assured us, “the chance to have a national debate.”

Well, it’s a pretty weird debate – one in which no one wants to talk. So far, the only person May has debated live on air has been her husband, as Jeremy Corbyn still wanders the country like an Ancient Mariner, signalling to everyone he meets that he will not speak to anyone unless that person is Theresa May. Campaign events have been exercises in shutting down argument, filtering out awkward questions, and speaking only to those who agree with every word their leader says.

Then came the loud campaign chants – “Strong and stable” versus “The system’s rigged against us” – but these got repeated so often that, like any phrase yelled a thousand times, the sense soon fell out of them. Party leaders might as well have mooned at each other from either side of a river.

Granted, some others did debate, but they carried no volume. The Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall, achieved what no one thought possible, by showing the country that Nigel Farage had stature. And there’s a special, silent hell where Tim Farron languishes, his argument stifled at every turn by a media bent on quizzing him on what sort of hell he believes in.

Meanwhile, the party manifestos came out, with titles not so much void of meaning as so bored of it that they sounded like embarrassed whispers. Forward, Together; The Many Not the Few; Change Britain’s Future: these all have the shape and rhythm of political language, but nothing startles them into life. They are not so much ­clarion calls as dusty stains on old vellum. Any loosely connected words will do: Building My Tomorrow or Squaring the Hypotenuse would be equally valid. I still pray for the day when, just for once, a party launches its campaign with something like Because We’re Not Animals! but I realise that’s always going to stay a fantasy.

Maybe because this is the third national vote in as many years, our brains are starting to cancel out the noise. We really need something to wake us up from this torpor – for what’s happening now is a huge transformation of the political scene, and one that we could be stuck with for the next several decades if we don’t shake ourselves out of bed and do something about it.

This revolution came so quietly that no one noticed. Early on in the campaign, Ukip and the Conservatives formed a tacit electoral pact. This time round, Ukip isn’t standing in more than 200 seats, handing Tory candidates a clear run against their opponents in many otherwise competitive constituencies. So, while the left-of-centre is divided, the right gets its act together and looks strong. Tory votes have been artificially suppressed by the rise of Ukip over the past few elections – until it won 12.6 per cent of the electorate in 2015. With the collapse of the Ukip vote, and that party no longer putting up a fight in nearly a third of constituencies, Theresa May had good reason to stride about the place as cockily as she did before the campaign was suspended because of the Manchester outrage.

That’s why she can go quiet, and that’s why she can afford to roam into the centre ground, with some policies stolen from Ed Miliband (caps on energy bill, workers on company boards) and others from Michael Foot (spending commitments that aren’t costed). But that is also why she can afford to move right on immigration and Brexit. It’s why she feels she can go north, and into Scotland and Wales. It’s a full-blooded attempt to get rid of that annoying irritant of democracy: opposition.

Because May’s opponents are not making much of this land-grab, and because the media seem too preoccupied with the usual daily campaign gaffes and stammering answers from underprepared political surrogates, it falls once again to the electorate to shout their disapproval.

More than two million new voters have registered since the election was announced. Of these, large numbers are the under-25s. Whether this will be enough to cause any psephological upsets remains to be seen. But my hope is that those whom politicians hope to keep quiet are just beginning to stir. Who knows, we might yet hear some noise.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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