The Daily Telegraph's story about the Scottish Labour MP George Galloway is undoubtedly a cracker. In some respects it reminds me of the Guardian's demolition of the Tory MP Neil Hamilton during the Major years. As a cocky, rather slimy Thatcherite of conspicuously ungentlemanly mien, Mr Hamilton represented everything the Guardian loathed. Similarly, though it may have had a respect for Mr Galloway's oratorical skills, the Daily Telegraph sees in him much that it hates. A careful reading of its full-length leading article on Tuesday morning reveals that the paper is not so much exercised by its allegations of corruption against Mr Galloway as its belief that his activity had been unpatriotic and treasonable. The Telegraph places Mr Galloway in a largely communist-inspired tradition, which offered succour to the Soviet Union during the Cold War and now opposes the Anglo-American imperium. His behaviour, in the paper's view, contaminates and undermines the anti-war movement.
When a newspaper sets out to destroy a man's reputation, as the Guardian did with Mr Hamilton and the Telegraph has done with Mr Galloway, it must expect a bitter fight. Mr Galloway says he has instructed his lawyers and, given his record for litigation, there is little reason to doubt that he will sue. The Telegraph's own reputation, and that of its editor, Charles Moore, will therefore be on the line. Mr Moore, of course, knew how high the stakes would be when he decided to run the story. Everything the Telegraph published will now be examined by my learned friends. It is in the nature of journalism that even an apparent knock-out blow such as the Telegraph has delivered against Mr Galloway can be called into question. The Guardian's difficulty in its story about Mr Hamilton's alleged corruption was that its only witness was Mohamed Fayed, a man not universally famed for his probity and veracity. We must consider the problems which the Telegraph may now face with its story about Mr Galloway.
It may be that I am not the person on earth best qualified to undertake this task on account of the many old ties linking me to the paper, but I shall strive to be fair. The first canard to dismiss is that the documents discovered by the Telegraph's David Blair in the ruined foreign ministry in Baghdad are fakes. Mr Galloway has himself suggested that they might be. Just who could have faked them? It is absurd to suggest that Mr Blair or the Daily Telegraph might have done so. I also very much doubt whether in the heat of war the allies have had the time to cook up false information about Mr Galloway and plant it in a smouldering ruin where Mr Blair happened on it, though I suppose we cannot completely rule it out. The idea that these documents have been fabricated is surely a childish fantasy.
They are genuine, yet they might conceivably be false or misleading. What an as yet unidentified Iraqi spy chief says about Mr Galloway in a memorandum to Saddam Hussein may not be gospel truth. The chief tells Saddam that Mr Galloway is in effect asking for a rise over and above the hundreds of thousands of pounds he was supposedly already receiving. Wednesday's Telegraph printed a putative reply from Saddam's most senior aide which denied Mr Galloway's request as conveyed by the spy chief. Is it possible that the chief was trying to blacken Mr Galloway by suggesting that he was the recipient of funds which in fact were not paid to him? It would seem a highly risky subterfuge, and one wonders what possible motives he could have had in inventing such a story.
Perhaps a more profitable line of attack against the Telegraph's story concerns the source of the funds. Did Mr Galloway benefit personally, and if so to what extent, or was the Mariam Appeal the only beneficiary? The Mariam Appeal is a political campaigning fund (Mr Galloway admits this) which has paid for trips by the Labour MP to at least 15 countries in his crusade on behalf of the Iraqi regime against Britain and America. Naturally the Telegraph does not approve of the activities of the Mariam Appeal but, if it could be shown that Mr Galloway had not benefited personally, the case against him would be less strong in some people's minds. There would be those who would say that taking money in such a cause from a foreign country, with which we were not then at war, is no great sin. Our suspicions may have been excited by pictures in Wednesday's Daily Telegraph of Mr Galloway's agreeable villa in the Algarve and his house in London, said to be worth £800,000, but these do not amount to proof.
This was a brilliantly presented story. I am less certain about the accompanying leader in Tuesday's paper. If the case against Mr Galloway is one of corruption, all well and good. If it is treason, there may be difficulties. The leader even cites an Irish nationalist MP who served against the British during the Boer war, and received a sentence of death, which was subsequently commuted. The paper plainly regretted that Parliament has recently abolished the death penalty for treason, and so Mr Galloway cannot be asked to pay the ultimate price. I am sure that Mr Galloway is a silly man, and he has already condemned himself by paying homage in public to Saddam Hussein. But treasonable? He is not Lord Haw-Haw and the second Gulf war was not the second world war. In the looming court case I trust that the Daily Telegraph will pitch its tent on the surer ground of corruption, and fight its battle there.
A board meeting of the Oldie magazine took place on Tuesday of last week. I happened to be present. It was agreed that Sir Paul Getty would invest a further £400,000 in the magazine, of which he was already the controlling shareholder. The idea was canvassed that he might also buy out a small proportion of the shares of other shareholders, of whom by far the biggest is Naim Attallah. Alas, I own only a pittance.
Two days later Sir Paul Getty was dead. He has been eloquently mourned in many places, but almost no one has written of his connection to the Oldie, or seen the possibly alarming consequences of his demise for the magazine. Naim Attallah has been quoted by the London Evening Standard as saying that Sir Paul's son Mark will step into the breach. Let's hope so. But if he should not, I hope that someone else will do so. I think I can honestly say that I am not thinking of my shareholding, which is minuscule and probably worthless. The Oldie is a brilliant magazine, and it would be a tragedy if Sir Paul's death killed it off.