Lord Ahmed accused of blaming Jewish media owners for his prison sentence

Labour suspends peer after he is alleged to have blamed Jews "who own newspapers and TV channels" for his conviction for dangerous driving.

 

Update 2: Ed Miliband has now responded to the story. Interviewed by ITV News, he said: "The comments reported by Lord Ahmed are disgraceful comments, there's no place for anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and frankly anybody who makes those kind of comments cannot be a Labour lord or a Labour member of parliament." 

That last point ("a Labour member of parliament") could be read as a reference to the Lib Dems' handling of David Ward. Ward accused "the Jews" of "inflicting atrocities on Palestinians … on a daily basis" but was not suspended from the party. 

Update: Labour has now suspended Ahmed pending an investigation. A party spokesman said: "The Labour Party deplores and does not tolerate any sort of racism or anti-semitism. Following reports in the Times today we are suspending Lord Ahmed pending an investigation."

At the time of writing, Lord Ahmed is still a Labour peer but, if today's reports are accurate, it is hard to see him remaining one. The Times writes that Ahmed blamed his prison sentence for dangerous driving on pressure placed on the courts by Jews "who own newspapers and TV channels". He said: 

My case became more critical because I went to Gaza to support Palestinians. My Jewish friends who own newspapers and TV channels opposed this. 

Ahmed is also accused of claiming that the judge who jailed him for 12 weeks was appointed to the High Court after helping a "Jewish colleague" of Tony Blair's during an "important case". The quotes are taken from an Urdu-language TV interview Ahmed gave in Pakistan in April last year. The peer, who was ennobled by Blair in 1998, has said that he has "no recollection" of giving the interview. "I've done a lot of interviews. If you're saying that you have seen this footage then it may be so but I need to see the footage and I need to consult with my solicitors before I make any comments in relation to this

Labour has responded to the story by stating that it "deplores and does not tolerate any sort of racism or anti-Semitism" and that "it will be seeking to clarify these remarks as soon as possible". It previously suspended Ahmed from the party after he was alleged to have offered a £10m bounty for the capture of Barack Obama and George Bush. It later revoked the suspension after the peer's actual comments emerged. He said: "Even if I have to beg I am willing to raise and offer £10m so that George W Bush and Tony Blair can be brought to the International Court of Justice on war crimes charges".

It is notable that Ahmed has denied the latest allegations less vociferously than on that occasion. In response to the "bounty" claims, he said that he was "shocked and horrified that this whole story could be just made up of lies". With Ed Miliband already under pressure to withdraw the whip from Ahmed, the party is likely to act swiftly to establish the facts. 

 

Labour peer Lord Ahmed, who became Britain's first male Muslim peer when he was ennobled by Tony Blair in 1998.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder