April 6, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
Let’s get something out of the way first. It is possible but highly unlikely that Nicola Sturgeon did say to the French Ambassador in a meeting in Febuary that she would “prefer” David Cameron to be Prime Minister come May 8th. It is possible because she knows full well that another five years of Conservative Party government is the quickest way to a second Scottish Independence Referendum, and one that the Nationalists are more likely to win. It is unlikely because someone as ruthlessly professional as Sturgeon is simply unlikely to say something so damaging to her and her party this close to an election that looks likely to make a massive difference to the fortunes of the SNP and the Nationalist cause. Far more likely, I would suggest, is that she said she ‘expected’ Cameron to remain in office because Ed Miliband is such a weak candidate. It is not a long journey from ‘expect’ to ‘espere’, which is French for ‘hope’ and you’ve got her allegedly preferring Cameron to win.
But the furore over what has been amusingly termed ‘Nikileaks’ says a lot more about the Westminster establishment than it does about what Sturgeon did or didn’t say. It reeks of fear.
You see, it doesn’t matter if Nicola Sturgeon turned up at that private meeting with the French Ambassador in a David Cameron mask and danced around the room singing about how much she loved Etonians. It was a private meeting, and there are no circumstances under which any record of it should have got out into the open. As it is, given there is no proof that she said anything of the sort, and she and the French Ambassador and the French consul present at the meeting who took notes and reported them to the civil servant who eventually wrote up the meeting details are all denying she said it, we have to assume that she didn’t.
Which leaves us with the situation we had yesterday. Media commentators from all political directions have condemned the leak of the memo from the civil servant. There are simply no circumstances under which that memo should have been leaked, whatever it says, and from Lord Ashcroft and Louise Mensch on the right to Owen Jones and Zoe Williams on the left, all are united in suggesting that it is a disgrace that someone within government, and possibly within the supposedly neutral civil service has leaked something as toxic as this, libellous or not, in the middle of an official election campaign. Owen Jones has written a well received book on the ‘Establishment’ and how it will do anything it can to protect its position, and when things like this happen, he is right.
So, what we have now is the political equivalent of the 1924 ‘Zinoviev letter’. Four days before the 1924 general election a controversial document was published by the British press, purporting to be a directive from the Communist International in Moscow to the Communist Party of Great Britain. It said that a Labour Government, should it win the election, could resume diplomatic relations and thereby hasten the radicalization of the British working class. The letter took its name from the apparent signature of a senior Soviet official Grigory Zinoviev. The letter seemed authentic at the time but historians now believe it was a forgery. It called for intensified communist agitation in Britain. Historians believe that whilst it had little impact on the Labour vote (and this issue may even increase SNP vote as the Scots come to realise the ranks of the UK establishment really are against them), it did help the Conservative vote increase to a point where it beat the Liberals and hastened their decline so much that the next time they were in government was today’s coalition.
The Daily Telegraph, despite arguing that they had little choice but to publish this Sturgeon memo once leaked it from Whitehall , did so without getting a quote from anyone involved, which is not good journalistic practice. The press has rushed to defend itself yesterday and today for reporting the memo and its’ fallout, particularly because of the sustained attack on them by the massed ranks of cybernats. There is no doubt that if Sturgeon did say what she was reported to have said it is in the public interest, given her constant insistence that every fibre of her body is against a Tory Government. But if she said it in a private meeting, and meetings with Ambassadors and the like are supposed to be private, it should not have been reported.
Sturgeon has demanded an inquiry into the leak, which some could argue is an admission of guilt in terms of saying what she is reported to have said. But she explained yesterday that since everyone there is clear she didn’t say it she doesn’t regard the truth of the report as an issue, but she DOES regard the leaking of a memo like this as a memo. Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, has launched the inquiry, and so he should.
It was Gandhi who said “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.” If this memo leak is what a lot of people think it is, it just confirms the extent to which Nicola Sturgeon, and the SNP, are winning.