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Monday, May 09, 2005


If you are going to smear, smear well

I have sent this letter to the Reader’s Editor of the Observer. Thanks to Dead Men Left (and Bat) for pointing out the details of this story.

XX Xxxxxxxxxxxx Xxxxxx

9th May 2005

Readers' Editor
The Observer
3-7 Herbal Hill

Dear Editor,

George Galloway has been taking a bit of a kicking from the media for some time now. Most of it has a completely hysterical tone, but the article by Euan Ferguson (Observer, May 8th) must be eligible for some kind of award:

“Elsewhere in Bethnal Green, student Benjamin Virgo, 34, explained what had happened to him on Tuesday night. 'On the way out to the corner shop to buy milk and bread I passed a couple of young guys. After I'd crossed the road they threw a bottle at me. They became more aggressive, so I reached for my mobile and started to call the police. They followed me into the shop and announced to the other customers and staff that I was a racist. Then, fists in my face, they ordered me to stop my call, reminded me that they knew where I lived and threatened to burn my house down. The police never came. George Galloway is now my MP.’”

I do not live in Bethnal Green and Bow. But I have an analogous story. A few months ago a woman was murdered and her body left in an alley just a few streets from my house (true). Kevin Brennan of the Labour Party was the sitting MP, and was returned to Parliament on Thursday (true). These two facts are not connected. Neither, it seems, is the assault on Benjamin Virgo and the election of George Galloway as an MP.

Linking these events in such a way is plainly an attempt at a smear. This smear, furthermore, is shot through with racist overtones. Though the quoted paragraph does not describe the ‘young guys’, that the story contains an allegation of racism against Benjamin Virgo and content of other anecdotes in the remainder of the article clearly ask us to assume that the young men are Asian. This is not a logical deduction from the text of the article, but any person arguing that this inference will not be a common reaction to reading this piece is either being disingenuous or has lived in a bubble, isolated from the the now standard descriptions of the election contest in Bethnal Green and Bow. It would appear that either Benjamin Virgo or Euan Ferguson has encouraged this inference on the part of the reader while washing their hands of any responsibility for this inference by a careful choice of words. And it will no doubt do the trick – and it is a trick – readers will leave the piece associating George Galloway with violence by young (Asian) men.

Euan Ferguson’s possible defence of, ‘that is not what I wrote, literally speaking’ raises a further question. If that is not what he meant this anecdote to imply, then what was the point of including this anecdote in his piece? It simply describes two unconnected events in a manner that implies connection. The most generous explanation is that Euan Ferguson is an incompetent writer. Slightly less savoury is the excuse that this anecdote was mere filler, an unconsidered inclusion to pad out the piece. Is Euan Ferguson paid by the word?

Of course, there is another explanation, one that leaves Euan Ferguson exonerated of a deliberate attempt at a smear but still leaving him guilty of foolishness. The anecdote is provided by Benjamin Virgo, a 34 year old student. I do not think that it is a particular stretch of the imagination to assume, quite reasonably, that Benjamin Virgo is the same person as Ben Virgo, the 34 year old student who allowed his family to become underhand campaign tools of New Labour and Oona King. Is this just more cynical campaigning, the dissemination of New Labour’s distorted vision of the world under the pretence that this is an independent voice (of hard working families)? Considered this way we are bound to find it suspicious that the anecdote claims that the police did not turn up. This, after all, leaves us with no official record or corroboration of the event.

Of course, here is where this smear reaches the heights of hysteria. The MP for Bethnal Green and Bow at the time of the assault was Oona King. George Galloway had no influence on policing at the time. To place the statements, “The police never came” and “George Galloway is now my MP” alongside each other implies connection. But there is none.

I am disappointed that The Observer would print this smear,


Andrew Bartlett

Postscript: After I sent this letter I found a lovely insight into the political concerns of Ben Virgo. He is reported as attending UCL Conservative Society meeting last autumn. According to the Mr J Robertson, who met him at the event, "I thought I'd found in him a solid Conservative supporter. His biggest political concern appeared to be his children's education in a school where many of the classmates do not speak English, and that he would ideally like to move from Bethnal Green." Accusations that George Galloway has played a communalist card (I am not sure if I understand this muddled idea, but a white Catholic Scot would find it difficult to appeal to voters from the Bengali-community by saying, ‘I am one of you’) always seem to turn around and slap the faces New Labour. They did, after all, distribute quite different election material in Muslim and non-Muslim areas, and now it is revealed that one of their campaign tools was motivated mainly by concerns was that there were too many immigrants. That may be a legitimate position – though I would argue that it is not – but it is dishonest to use this man and claim that it is your opponents who are communalist.

It really is horrific.

My own effort:



Euan Ferguson's ('I have listened and I have learnt...', 08/05/05) outrageous and entirely superfluous association between a supposed attack by Asian youths on a young white man in Bethnal Green and the election of George Galloway is made all the more distasteful both by the fact that the ethnicities involved remain an "open secret", and the pointed absence of editorial comment. The implicit association between Asians, violence, and the election of a Respect candidate--which has no concrete link in the narrative of the crime itself--plays to readers' fears as much as the rhetoric of the recent Conservative campaign on immigration, and is in a way more conspicuous. I have come to associate this kind of openly implicit racism more with the Daily Mail than your own, supposedly liberal paper. Has the Labour Left really sunk so low?


Xxxxxx, etc.
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