Matthew d’Ancona

December 3, 2007

Editorial Intelligence’s Matthew d’Ancona believes that everyone in Britain is inspired by Hugh Grant’s Notting Hill films — and subscribes to a warm-hearted ‘generous’ vision of ‘effortless, non-elitist’ wealth, ‘racial diversity’ and a vision of the ‘possibilities of modernity’. The Telegraph’s political columnist (now editor of the Spectator) crowns it all by saying that the “informality” and niceness of all this has set the stage for a David Cameron victory — that Hugh Grant’s and Cameron’s Notting Hill has captured the mood of the nation! He also says that this contrasts with the ‘pessimism and snobbery’ of the reactionary Right.”
But its not always that ‘nice’ — ask Divine Brown. But then again we would all have to conceed that she made a fair bit of money out of it and so is d’ Ancona saying we should all be prostitutes or just prostitutes with celebrities with a film out?  He could well be right with that jibe about the ‘pessimism and snobbery’ of the reactionary Right: one would not imagine Ann Widdecombe using the Brown/Grant method as a way for the ‘underclass’ to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’, but who knows all it needs is a PR rebranding of oral sex in a car and hey presto — election manifesto commitment! But with people like Matthew advising —have the Tories really changed?

D’Ancona will also use atrocities to recycle nauseating attempts at political point scoring, as recently in his attempts to twist Ken Livingstone’s response to London bombings into a smear of the ex-mayor.

As deputy editor of the Sunday Telegraph, he stated that:

“With tears streaming down his cheeks, he quoted Pericles, and in homage to John F Kennedy’s famous call — Lass’sie nach Berlin kommen —the mayor declared: “Let them come to London!” On that day, only the most churlish would have denied that Mr Livingstone spoke to, and for, his city. So it was all the more depressing to hear him revert to type yesterday as he spouted the fatuous Left-wing mantras for which he earned his notoriety in the 1980s. While claiming that he felt no sympathy for the suicide bombers and (naturally) that “killing people is wrong”, he resurrected the pernicious old doctrine of moral equivalence, beloved of the Left in the Cold War. “I don’t just denounce the suicide bombers,” he said. “I denounce those governments that use indiscriminate slaughter to advance their foreign policy” — by which he meant Israel, and, one presumed, America. So, too, he deployed the whiskery argument that western imperialism is at the root of all evil… Is he truly blaming the murder of 56 commuters on the Balfour Declaration, and the 1920 San Remo Conference? And would the mayor be willing to tell the bereaved relatives of Shahara Islam, the 20-year-old from Plaistow who was buried on Friday, or of James Adams, 32, from Peterborough, and Monika Suchocka, 23, a Pole who was living in north London (both of whom were named as among the dead on Tuesday), that their loved ones would still be alive if not for the Treaty of Versailles? This was not the burden of Mr Livingstone’s remarks. He said that the history of the last 90 years was the background to what had happened, but that “the particular problem we have at the moment is that in the 1980s… the Americans recruited and trained Osama Bin Laden” and started this insurgency which has now come back to haunt the West (it’s not strictly accurate that bin Laden himself was recruited, trained or financed by the CIA, but the movement that he was part of, and which he draws from certainly did benefit from such generosity).
And the mayor also talked about the present, about the behaviour of the United States and Britain in the last few years: “A lot of young people see the double standards, they see what happens in Guantanamo Bay, and they just think that there isn’t a just foreign policy.” This kind of realism about the sources of the London atrocities (Ken Livingstone has of course condemned the atrocities themselves, and was a prime mover in the ‘London United’ events in reaction to the bombings) is supported by the public (which sees a connection between the bombings and British foreign policy, as we know from the Guardian poll) but is anathema to the government and its supporters”.

He will also excuse the most wayward of terminology in others if it concurs with his own warped world view, in the case below Blair’s sham Christian ‘faith’. As Peter Oborne put it in The Spectator :

“D’Ancona is one of many who see Blair’s Christian faith as the key to understanding his personality as prime minister, insisting that it lends a special moral dimension to everything he does, setting him apart from less devout politicians. D’Ancona, who has spoken at length to Blair about his religion, asserts that the Kosovo war also was inspired by the Prime Minister’s Christian commitment. Indeed, Tony Blair was the first to use the term ‘crusade’ in connection with the Balkans, a regrettable phrase later appropriated by President Bush in the aftermath of 11 September.”

Oborne (who does seem a principled Conservative) describes d’Ancona as a Blair apologist who has yet to explain fully how “religious belief can be at the core of the Prime Minister’s conduct of the war at a time when pretty well every Church leader, from the Pope to the Archbishop of Canterbury, has been opposed to it all along.”

Perhaps d’Ancona gets confused between Blair and Cameron just as he gets confused between reality and Hugh Grant films.

D’Ancona was appointed by The Queen as a Millennium Commissioner in 2003 (the Millennium Commission distributes Lottery money) and is an adviser to Demos and on the Social Market Foundation Policy Advisory Board —both (Lottery money-hungry) think tanks have several members who have crossed over into one and other to create the grey mush of PR that metropolitan politics has become. He is also a member of the board of the rather tame Index on Censorship. One gets the feeling he is a bit of a snooper.

It is a reliance on the supernatural that fuels d’Ancona and this was taken to absurd lengths when he embarked on a mission to find the ‘true cross’ as a disciple of Conrad Black who has also had a recent brush with Deuteronomy. Alas: no man can have many masters. Surely the Scribes and Sadduces would have been working for Murdoch or Black. D’Ancona is also the writer of a couple of dubious books aiming to cash in on the fad for religious superstition (“The Most Sensational Evidence on the Origins of” …etc.) these have been severely criticised by more serious scholars.

And he has also tried his hand at more mundane pot boiler thrillers (“As Nick is kidnapped by secret-service agents, his personal life spirals even further out of control, and he realizes he is just a pawn in the hands of obscure forces, and his former lover the head of a most dangerous network of anti-global terrorists”).

We should add to our knowledge of his position on Demos (the ‘left’) and the SNF (the ‘middle’), the fact that he is a member of the Centre for Policy Studies Board of Directors, and retains an unholy love for Baroness Thatcher — what was that about the reactionary Right? His observational powers as an editor would have to be questioned given he noticed nothing untoward in the activities of his master Conrad Black (yet is awarded the ‘Best Political Journalist of the Year Award’ at the British Press Awards — while the religious guff has been described as “National Enquirer brand of scholarship”) and will quite happily bang on about crime in the ancient Tory mode.

In yet another demonstration of the cottage industry nepotism of this tiny London set, d’Ancona’s wife, Sarah Schaefer is the Director of the Europe Programme at the Foreign Policy Centre. She previously worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and as a political correspondent at The Independent. A former Director of Communications at the Social Market Foundation, she was more recently political adviser at the FCO to Dr Denis MacShane (who else) when he was Europe Minister. More recently, she was Director of Strategy and Communications at Britain in Europe.

God’s son

He also says that the ‘reactionary Right’ want the ‘British to be angry, pessimistic and snobbish’.
Yet d’Ancona’s own connections and views are not sharply removed from such traditions. According to the Mail on Sunday February 5 1995, It was he who got the Northern Ireland peace deal leak from a cabal of Unionists intent on sabotaging the peace:

“As a Times columnist in 1995 D’Ancona secured extracts from the framework agreement on the Northern Ireland peace process. John Major claims that these were leaked selectively to destroy talks —and it almost worked. Last night it was becoming clear that a caucus of fervent Loyalists under the umbrella of a Unionist study group is closely associated with the leaker. It is made up of PR man David Burnside, D’Ancona himself; Dean Godson, a Daily Telegraph staff reporter; Paul Goodman, Northern Ireland correspondent on the Sunday Telegraph; Noel Malcolm, a historian and Daily Telegraph political columnist; Andrew McHallam, executive director of the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies; Charles Moore, editor of the Sunday Telegraph; Simon Pearce, a Conservative election candidate; company director Justin Shaw and historian Andrew Roberts. One of the group said last night: ‘We didn’t want the position when the framework document was published of being out in the cold as we were over the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. There was a coming together of minds over what should be done.”

Here it all gets rather old fashioned, as set out here in Peter Ellingsen (1995) A malevolent leak threatens to sink Ulster peace talks; Foreign Report, The Age (Melbourne, Australia) February 6:

“Interestingly, the leak, published by The Times, was written, not by one of the paper’s political reporters or Ulster staff, but by an editorial writer with strong links to the unionist cause. Matthew D’Ancona, who has close ties with unionist politicians, and co-wrote a report by the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies, arguing that the IRA ceasefire “may actually have destablilised Ulster”, denies accusations he set out to torpedo the peace talks. “I emphatically deny it was designed to wreck the peace process,” said Mr D’Ancona, 26, a fellow of All Souls, Oxford.”

An earlier report (Adrian Lithgow (1995) How Ulster Leak Plotters Beat Security To Protect Secret Source Of Leak, Mail on Sunday, February 5) argued that the:

“conspirators wore surgical gloves. The document they were handling was so politically explosive they dared not leave a single smudged fingerprint or speck of grease to show it had been touched.”

This states that d’Ancona, then a 26-year-old assistant editor at The Times, was not even allowed to photocopy it and that:

“The paper was believed to be in ink containing a secret masking agent preventing duplication and was imprinted with an identifying code. That code would have shown which of the 25 copies circulating at the highest Government levels had been leaked. Last night it was becoming clear that a caucus of fervent Loyalists under the umbrella of a Unionist study group is closely associated with the leaker. It is made up of PR man David Burnside, D’Ancona himself; Dean Godson, a Daily Telegraph staff reporter; Paul Goodman, Northern Ireland correspondent on the Sunday Telegraph; Noel Malcolm, a historian and Daily Telegraph political columnist; Andrew McHallam, executive director of the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies; Charles Moore, editor of the Sunday Telegraph; Simon Pearce, a Conservative election candidate; company director Justin Shaw and historian Andrew Roberts.”

Dean Godson claims in his 2005 biography of David Trimble that the leak was arranged by David Burnside. Godson was a Research Fellow for the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies (which rounded up all the old Congress for Cultural Freedom and Information Research Department buzzards to carry on the work of the reactionary right). The Godson dynasty has had quite an effect on British politics. Dean Godson is now the Research Director for the Policy Exchange.

There has not been much luck with the search for the ‘true cross’, apart from a TV program and potential DVD sales, perhaps a quest for the grail might be the sequel: on with the surgical gloves one more time and out with the coconuts.

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