Sunday 8 April 2007

A loathsome ploy

This is very, very clever. But it also represents the very nadir of a loathsome government which is more interested in spin and its own survival than it is the welfare of the nation and the safety of its own troops.

According to the BBC, the "frightened fifteen" are to be allowed to sell their stories to the media and keep the money.

The Ministry of Defence has said their experiences amounted to "exceptional circumstances" that allowed its usual ban on such payments to be lifted. We are told that the MoD has said: "Serving personnel are not allowed to enter financial arrangements with media organisations. However, in exceptional circumstances such as the awarding of a Victoria Cross or events such as those in recent days, permission can be granted by commanding officers and the MoD."

What a disgusting parallel this is – to equate the action of these people with the winners of Victoria Crosses. But how deviously clever it is of a totally unprincipled MoD. Instead of seeking "closure" as I first thought, the spin meisters have evidently sussed the continued public interest in this issue.

By thus opening the gates to the "human interest" dimensions, it will feed the soap opera aspects of the Iranian hostage incident, drowning out the substantive issues in a torrent of irrelevant detail. And you can be assured that the stories will be very carefully vetted to exclude operational detail, for reasons of "national security", to ensure that nothing embarrassing leaks out.

The media, of course, will fall in with this ploy. Whatever distaste any particular newspapers might have had, greed will take over and we will see a bidding war for the rights to do the MoD's dirty work. Up front is LS Turney, who can command a premium for being the "plucky mum" in uniform.

This is far more skilful than a mere cover-up. It has been difficult enough to try to get people focused on the circumstances which led up to this episode and now it will be even more difficult. Commodore Nick Lambert can sleep easy in his bed in the coming nights in anticipation of the next honours list when he will receive his knighthood in recognition of his services to a grateful government.

Thus the rot which infects the very top of our Armed Forces will go unrecognised and unchecked. The weaknesses will remain unaddressed and the guilty will go unpunished.

For the rest, the thousands of brave and unassuming service personnel who do their duty by their country – their jobs will be inestimably harder and dangerous. And more will die.

By comparison with this government, Ahmadinejad is an honourable and principled man. As for the Navy (I can't bring myself to call it Royal), we might as well scrap it, for all the use it is.


According to The Sunday Telegraph, Turney is understood to have agreed a lucrative deal with ITV's Tonight with Trevor McDonald for a special programme to be broadcast tomorrow evening. It is thought the deal will also involve an interview with a tabloid newspaper. A source at the MoD said it involved a "life-changing sum".

The paper says it is understood that she was offered more than £100,000 to describe exclusively her experiences of the hostage crisis and the deal with ITV and the newspaper, believed to be The Sun, is thought to be worth a substantial amount.

The Sunday Times has it that critics are claiming that it (the aftermath) had become a media circus, with one former British commander saying the released hostages were behaving like reality TV contestants. The paper continues: "Others said they were being used as pawns in the propaganda war with Iran. But some former soldiers said it was a shrewd move by the MoD to control publication of the captives' stories."

Given the amount of money being paid, I suppose that's inflation for you ... it used to be 30 pieces of silver. Nelson would have hidden his head in shame. Never mind, though. Liam Fox has expressed his "concern".