Leveson sketch: Dacre – the sequel

Hugh Grant's "mendacious smear" has got right up the nose of the Daily Mail chief.

It was clear as soon as Paul Dacre came into Court 73 that someone had lit the blue touch paper attached to the editor of the Daily Mail and quickly retired out of harm's way.

To see the boogie man's boogie man in broad daylight once in a week is a rare event but to see him twice was enough to keep the audience in their seats, as the Leveson inquiry meandered through it's 40th day on Fleet Street's malpractices. There had already been some entertainment during the day as Heather Mills-no-longer-McCartney told how the press turned on her post-Macca, and Max Clifford revealed that Simon Cowell and other famous faces pay him £250,000 a year -- first to get them into the papers then to keep them out.

But for the aficionados who had been lucky enough to be present on Monday it was Dacre: the Sequel which got them back early from the pubs which help lubricate the wheels of justice on a daily basis. Those who were there on Monday heard Dacre reveal that the Mail's world view is not his alone but honed by independent thinkers like Simon Heffer and Amanda Platell. He demurred at the suggestion from one of the inquiry advocates (whose particulars will no doubt have been taken down) that the Mail played to the "fears and prejudices" of its readers; preferring the word "anxieties" -- but that was when he was still in what his staff would call a good mood.

All that changed when the name Hugh Grant was mentioned.

Grant, it now appears, has taken the place in the Mail lexicon that used to be occupied in previous decades by Arthur Scargill and Red Robbo. Indeed, he even seems to have supplanted more recent heroes like John Prescott and Bob Crow -- a rare achievement for someone whose road to revolution started with Four Weddings and a Funeral.

But Hugh has done something successfully that the rest never managed by getting right up the nose of the editor-in-chief of the newspaper group
that wants to be closer to the squeezed middle than even Ed Miliband. Dacre's nose is not a place you would want to be. You could see that yesterday as it led his face, still ruddy red from his foreign holidays, glowering into the courtroom.

After 20 years running the Mail, Dacre is not as used to democratic debate as others might be. Indeed, his morning conference is described by attendees as the Vagina Monologues because of his use of certain colourful words to enhance his world view.

But he did his best to keep his temper under check as he tried but failed to submit to questioning from barrister David Shelbourne. Instead he launched into answers to questions he had not been asked, as he took his temper out on a pen he had obviously been given to strangle. His demeanour was not helped by the suave Shelbourne, clearly as keen on Dacre as he was on him.

But back to Grant whose name emerged from between the Mail man's teeth as if drawn by a dentist. The nub of the matter is a claim by the actor on day one of the Leveson inquiry that one of the Mail newspapers Dacre runs may have hacked phone messages between him and friends and used them to run stories.

This led Dacre -- who heard the allegation on another of his bête noires, the BBC -- to fall into a Monologue moment and accuse Grant of a "mendacious smear," thereby suggesting, as Corporal Jones said, that they really don't like it up 'em.

What followed yesterday was one of those courtroom comedy moments when barristers on both sides got up and down, Lord Justice Leveson tried to keep the peace and his temper, and the man with his finger on the nation's fears snorted loud enough to bring traffic to a stop on the Strand. Would Mr Dacre now care to withdraw the "mendacious" charge, said Shelbourne, as he managed to get a word in during one of his rare pauses. No chance, said the editor-in-chief, unless "the poster boy" for the Hacked Off campaign withdrew all allegations of hackery against the group "that I love".

The day had begun with a live link to nighttime Australia where a man with a red and white punk haircut had tried to explain the mysteries of the freelance photo business to "sir," as he described Lord Leveson.

This brought to an end "module one" of the inquiry which seemed to mean something to a courtroom full of people for whom tabloid newspapers were a mystery a month ago and now must be beyond their understanding. A few more people picked up their cheques from Rupert Murdoch for crimes committed by the News of the World and others joined the queue. The hacking, blagging and bribing cases haven't even hit court yet.

As Dacre packed up his temper to take it back to the office for the night conference, Lord Leveson said he might have him back again. Book early, this one will run and run.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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Bomb Isil? That's exactly what they want

The government appears not to answer the nature of its enemy, warns Maria Norris.

As MPs are set to vote on further airstrikes in Syria, it is difficult to shake off the feeling that the government does not fully appreciate the complexity of the problem Isil poses. Just a cursory glance at its magazine, the pronouncements of its leaders and its ideology reveals that Isil is desperate for Western bombs to fall out of the sky. As Martin Chulov argues, Isil is fighting a war it believes was preordained since the early days of Islam. Isil’s obsession with the city of Dabiq, in Northern Syria, stems from a hadith which prophesises that the ‘Crusader’ army will land in the city as a precursor to a final battle where Islam will emerge victorious. Dabiq is also the name of its magazine, which starts every issue with the same quote: "The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify -- by Allah's permission -- until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq". Isil wants a war with the West. If we don’t negotiate with terrorists, then we also should not give them what they want.

Further, bombs are indiscriminate and will inevitably lead to the suffering of those trapped in Isil territories. Isil is counting on this suffering to swell their ranks. Civilian suffering from airstrikes only underline the narrative that the West is at war with Islam, which plays directly into Isil’s hands. And despite misleading headlines and the genuine government concern with individuals fleeing to Syria, Isis is supremely unpopular. It is no wonder that its magazine is filled with glossy adds begging people to move to its territories.  You cannot be a state without people. Terrorist attacks such as Paris thus have a two-pronged purpose: they provoke the West to respond with its military, and they act as a recruitment drive. The fact that fake Syrian passports were found around the sites of the Paris attacks is no coincidence as Isil are both seeking to stem the flow of refugees from its territories and hoping to provoke an Islamophobic backlash. They hope that, as more Muslims feel alienated in the West, more will join them, not just as fighters, but as the doctors, nurses and teachers it desperately needs.

In addition to this, airstrikes overlook the fact that Isil is a result of what Fawaz Gerges calls a severe, organic institutional crisis in the Middle East. In a lecture at the London School of Economics earlier this year, Gerges pointed out the dysfunction created when a region that is incredibly resource rich also is also deeply undemocratic, riddled with corruption, food insecurity, unemployment and poverty. This forms an institutional vacuum that is filled by non-state actors as the population does not trust its political structures. Further, the civil war in Syria is also the site of the toxic soup of Middle Eastern state dysfunction. Iran supports Assad, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, fund anti-Shia groups in Syria. Throw in the Kurdish conflict, Turkey’s ambiguous position and Russian bombs, it is difficult to see how airstrikes will solve anything.

Finally, it is crucial that Isil is seen as a direct result of the Iraq war. The American-led invasion destroyed the institutions, giving the Shia majority power almost overnight, creating deep dissatisfaction in the Sunni regions of Iraq. On top of this thousands of foreign fighters flooded Iraq to fight the invaders, attracting disenfranchised and angry Sunnis. The result is that since 2003, Iraq has been embroiled in a sectarian civil war.  It is in civil war, inherently connected to the Iraq War, that you find the roots of Isil. As even the Prime Minister concedes that ground troops are necessary, albeit it regional ground troops with its own set of problems, it is important to consider what further monster can arise from the ashes of another ill-thought out military intervention in the Middle East.
We have had decades of military intervention in the Middle East with disastrous consequences. Airstrikes represent business as usual, when what we actually need is a radically new approach. Who is funding Isil? Who is buying its oil? How to curb Isil’s recruitment drives? What can be done about the refugees? How to end the conflict in Syria? What happens to Assad? These are questions hopefully being addressed in talks recently held in Vienna with Russian, Ira, the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states. Airstrikes do not answer any of these questions. What airstrikes do is give Isil exactly what it is asking for. Surely this is reason enough not to bomb Syria. 

Maria W. Norris is a PhD candidate and a teacher at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her PhD is on the UK counter-terrorism strategy since 9/11 and its relationship with identity. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.