I used to ascribe it to Hilaire Belloc, because I have a liking for Belloc’s epigrams. It was, in fact Humbert Wolff, a civil servant with the Ministry of Labour, a translator and writer.
You cannot hope to bribe or twist, thank God! the British journalist. But, seeing what the man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to.
Which leads us to this extraordinary business when a secret document, presumably via the Foreign Office (prop: the Rt Hon Philip Hammond, as in very Right and oh-so-honourable), finds its way to the Daily Telegraph.
The Daily Telegraph has seen the official British Government memorandum which includes details of a private meeting between Miss Sturgeon and Sylvie Bermann, the French Ambassador to the UK.
The memorandum which was written by a senior British civil servant, dated March 6th, states: “Just had a telephone conversation with Pierre-Alain Coffinier (PAC), the French CG [consul-general]. He was keen to fill me in on some of the conversations his Ambassador had during her visit to Scotland last week. All of this was given on a confidential basis.”
It continues: “The Ambassador….had a truncated meeting with the FM [Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister] (FM running late after a busy Thursday…). Discussion appears to have focused mainly on the political situation, with the FM stating that she wouldn’t want a formal coalition with Labour; that the SNP would almost certainly have a large number of seats… that she’d rather see David Cameron remain as PM (and didn’t see Ed Miliband as PM material).”
The thought has to be “just too convenient”. Note the incriminating fingerprints:
- the Torygraph has “seen” the document;
- it is then a “leak” of a memo of a telephone conversation and all at third hand — Bermann☞Coffinier☞unnamed UK official;
- the information was “on a confidential basis”, so its revelation is an embarrassment to both national governments;
- rashly, an adverb one might not ever readily apply to Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister got personal, down and dirty;
- the document emerges late on a Friday, a Bank Holiday Friday, when government officials have departed for a long weekend. Fridays play quite a rôle in what follows.
And we can, of course, trust the Torygraph?
Well, let’s consider how George Galloway was stitched up. You’ll find the term “forgery” twenty-one times in that account. It’s a long read, so I’ll leave you to enjoy. One thought before we swiftly pass on: even were the document no forgery, there remains the further oddities of how the Torygraph got it, and used it with malevolent intent. We need not speculate on why. And, in the present case, we have confirmation: And the Daily Mail is an impeccable source? A bit self-regarding, don’tcha think, of the Mail to harken back to 1924 — for, ahem, there is the small matter of the Zinoviev letter, presumably concocted by White Russians, and deployed by the Tory Party at a convenient moment in the 1924 General Election. And published by … the Daily Mail. I like this one because it has a parallel existence to the Sturgeon canard. The language that Gregor Zinoviev uses (27 October 1924) almost echoes Sturgeon’s denial. Compare and contrast:
The letter of 15th September, 1924, which has been attributed to me, is from the first to the last word, a forgery. … The forger has shown himself to be very stupid in his choice of the date. On the 15th of September, 1924, I was taking a holiday in Kislovodsk, and, therefore, could not have signed any official letter.
Friday, bloody Friday
The exchange between Coffinier and the unnamed British official took place on a Friday (a French official at his desk on a Friday?) Sturgeon sent a public tweet:
… to the Telegraph’s Scottish political correspondent Simon Johnson read: “.@simon_telegraph your story is categorically, 100%, untrue…which I’d have told you if you’d asked me at any point today.”
Johnson didn’t reply to the First Minister.
The French Embassy has since backed up Sturgeon’s version of events in a statement.
It read: “While the ambassador and the First Minister, some time ago, have discussed the political situation, Ms Sturgeon did not touch on her personal political preferences with regards the future Prime minister.”
Which has more of the “look-and-feel” of the canny Scots lawyer we know Sturgeon to be.
The Tory game-play here mirrors the Zinoviev letter: then the target was the wavering third-party Liberals, now it’s the third-party SNP.
And further back, does another event come to mind?
Ah, yes! The Grand-daddy of them all — The Times and Richard Pigott’s forgeries of Charles Stewart Parnell. The original articles are here.
For and on the present kerfuffle:
Nicola Sturgeon has demanded a civil service inquiry into the leaking of a memo which claimed she privately wanted to see Conservatives remain in power following the May 7 General Election.
The Scottish National Party leader described the allegation as “100% untrue” and said she had written to Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood to demand a Whitehall probe into how the account of her conversation with the French ambassador was obtained by the Daily Telegraph.
She said the story was a sign of “panic” in Westminster over the surge in support for the SNP, and issued a challenge to Labour leader Ed Miliband to state publicly that he would work with the SNP to “lock out” David Cameron from Downing Street in the event of a hung parliament.
Only around the tenth to twelfth paragraph, even in this “updated” version, do we get to the caveats and Nicola Sturgeon’s firm denial. Odd, that.