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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David Cameron's prisons speech could be the start of something good

If the Prime Minister puts his words into action, then this speech could mark the beginning of a big shift on prisons policy. 

David Cameron’s speech condemning prisons as violent and failing could herald a seismic change in policy. He is absolutely right to point to the waste of money, effort and lives that characterises today’s prison system. He is also right about the direction of travel that needs to be taken and some of his ideas are at the very least worthy of discussion. The most important reform was missing, as none of his aspirations can happen unless the sheer number of men, women and children in prison is cut, and cut radically. Sentencing reform is the lynchpin.

The detailed proposals will be scrutinised as they are rolled out over the coming months, but the urgent over-riding challenge is to cut the prison population. Last week the number of men in prison increased by 185, and in the last four weeks the prison population has gone up by 684 men and women. Prison overcrowding is not standing still, it is rapidly deteriorating.

Chris Grayling closed 18 prisons and wings, reallocating the population into the shrunk estate. He cut prison staff by more than a third in each prison. The result was overcrowded, understaffed, violent prisons full of drugs and very disaffected staff trying to control frustrated prisoners on restricted regimes.

I was expecting some thinking on who we send to prison and what we do with them when they are incarcerated to create the conditions for radical reform. I was disappointed as the proposals were oddly reminiscent of things that Labour tried and contributed to this mess in the first place.

Labour was very proud of building lots of new prisons, hoping that they would build their way out of an overcrowding crisis. What happened of course was that new prisons were filled even before they were completed so the old prisons couldn’t be closed. Today we hear that £1.3 billion will be spent on building ‘reform prisons’ that will pilot new ways of working. My worry is that they will become warehouses unless the sheer number of prisons is restricted and resources are allocated to allow for just the sort of flexibility being proposed.

Giving governors more autonomy sounds good, and I support it in principle, but they always used to have their own budgets with discretion to choose how to spend it, including commissioning education and other services. It is no good having increased autonomy if they are constantly firefighting an overcrowding crisis and not given the resources, including well trained prison staff, to implement new ideas.

We already have league tables for prisons. Every few months assessments of how prisons are performing are published, along with regular inspections and independent boards monitor conditions. Reoffending rates are published but this information is less robust as prisoners tend to move round the system so how can one establishment be accountable.

I was pleased to hear that work inside prisons is going to be a key reform. But, the Prime Minister referred to a small project in one prison. Projects with desultory training in the few hours that men get to spend out of their cells will not instil a work ethic or achieve work readiness. Prisoners get a pack of cereals and a teabag at night so they don’t have breakfast, are not showered or clean, are wearing sweaty and shabby clothes.

Every day men and women are released from prison to go to work in the community as part of their programme of reintegration. This is extremely successful with incredibly few failures. So what is the point of adding extra expense to the public by tagging these people, unless the purpose is just to feed the coffers of the private security companies.

There are imaginative ways of using technology but what was being suggested today looks as though it is just adding restrictions by tracking people. That would be neither creative nor effective.

David Cameron is looking to his legacy. I fear that I could be listening to a Prime Minister in five or ten years bewailing the dreadful prison conditions in institutions that are no different to today’s overcrowded dirty prisons, except that they were built more recently. He will have achieved a massive investment of capital into expanding the penal estate but, whilst there will be more prisons, even the new jails could be overcrowded, stinking and places of inactivity and violence.

I want the Prime Minister to look back on today’s speech with pride because it achieved humanity in a system that is currently failing. I would like to see a prison system in decades to come that is purposeful, with men and women busy all day, getting exercise for the mind, body and soul. I would like to see prisons that only hold people who really need to be there because they have committed serious and violent crimes but whose lives will be turned around, who achieve redemption in their own eyes and that of victims and the public.

My job is to hold him to account for this vision. If what he announced today achieves radical reform and changes lives for the better, I will cheer. I will be watching.

Frances Crook is the Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform.