Was The Guardian somehow involved in the failed putsch against Gordon Brown? Was even the BBC?
Last week I wrote a piece in the Daily Mail suggesting it might have been. This article drew forth cries of disbelief from Professor Roy Campbell-Greenslade, the independent-minded commentator who blogs for Media Guardian. Roy scoffed at the idea that the paper for which he works could have been part of any coup, but he did not, in fact, offer any reasoned argument against it, other than it was intrinsically unlikely, and that the media does not operate like that. Sometimes I do fear for Roy's poor unfortunate students.
Let me lay out the evidence, which has expanded somewhat since I wrote that Mail piece.
Exhibit One: On Wednesday 3 June The Guardian runs a full-page leader calling for Mr Brown's resignation. It is most unusual for Labour's favourite newspaper to call for the immediate resignation of the party's leader.
Exhibit Two: Backbench Labour MPs claim privately that they knew about this leader before it was published.
Exhibit Three: At 10.30 that morning, Hazel Blears resigns. At noon The Guardian exclusively breaks news of the "hotmail plot" in its online version, not waiting until the next day's paper.
Exhibit Four: The revelation of the plot so soon after publication of the editorial, and the resignation of Ms Blears, had an explosive effect on Labour MPs. In the event the plot did not get anywhere, and some people argue that it was greatly talked up by The Guardian.
Exhibit Five: Interested students of this affair should read an article by Allegra Stratton, The Guardian 's political correspondent, available online. It reads like an insider's blow-by-blow account of what the "hotmail plotters" got up to, including details of the rebels' five-page spreadsheet containing personal and other details of Labour MPs. At the very least, the plotters gave The Guardian unrivalled access.
Exhibit Six: During the six days of the attempted coup (from The Guardian's leader to Brown's addressing Labour troops on the evening of 8 June), The Guardian's Polly Toynbee was probably given more airtime on BBC radio and television than all other journalists combined. This indulgence of her is significant because Toynbee, a former Brown groupie turned bitter renegade, is a far more effective and fearless critic of the Prime Minister than any single Labour MP or ex-Cabinet minister.
Exhibit Seven: Toynbee had no direct hand in The Guardian's editorial, which was written by the paper's chief leader writer, Julian Glover, in consultation with its editor, Alan Rusbridger. However, Guardian sources say her recent written tirades against Mr Brown, as well as private conversations, had an effect on Rusbridger's decision to call for the Prime Minister's resignation.
Exhibit Eight: The BBC's role went beyond giving a unique platform to Toynbee. It led bulletins on the morning of 3 June with news of The Guardian's editorial. This probably reflects the BBC's view of The Guardian as the only paper that matters, rather than the existence of a plot involving journalists in the two organisations. The tenor of the BBC's reporting was, however, consistently unfavourable to Mr Brown. The Guardian columnist Michael White, evidently no supporter of the coup, wrote when it was over: "[The BBC] has joined the 'Gordon must go' campaign with a ... lack of wisdom and restraint. Its news reports have sometimes sounded like newspaper columns." Too right.
Let me leave it there. I am far from being a supporter of Mr Brown. I wish he had gone because we would then have a general election. My point is that there is circumstantial evidence that some Guardian journalists were close to the rebels. I suspect BBC reporters were less close, though the corporation's political editor, Nick Robinson, unwisely revealed that he knew who the plotters were but was not going to tell us. Why not?
Doesn't Rusbridger have a case to answer? So far he has let Roy slip his leash, and allowed a couple of columnists a pop, without addressing the charge. (It seems Polly was involved in Roy's exculpation of her role, since a link to his piece from The Comment is Free website on guardian.co.uk inadvertently reveals that she posted it.) There is also an illuminating "Twitter exchange" (repeated on the "digital content blog" on guardian.co.uk) between Rusbridger and Tom Watson, the Cabinet Office Minister. Mr Watson says: "Many people think you should report the news, not make it."
There is obviously nothing wrong in a paper calling for the Prime Minister's resignation. The Guardian would not have done so unless it had been reasonably confident that its wishes would be fulfilled. Because the plot failed, Rusbridger now looks a bit exposed and isolated, so expect to see some rowing back over coming weeks. That is no doubt why last Thursday's front page gave such a warm welcome to Mr Brown's constitutional proposals.
Whatever Roy may say, The Guardian did become too involved in the action. It wanted to help make the political news. I wonder what its readers would say if they knew.
Mail's writers are always free to take a rod to Gordon Brown
Can you guess in which newspaper these anti-Gordon Brown sentiments were expressed in the past week or so? "Gordon Brown inhabits an extra terrestrial zone far off among the planets ... The British people deserve to be delivered from a regime that has become ridiculous." (7 June). "Gordon Brown is a dead man walking ... an increasingly grumpy and paranoid Prime Minister." (6 June). "Gordon Brown was at his worst in terms of duplicity, the procedural sneakiness that has characterised his political career." (11 June).
Any guesses? Let me go on. "The Prime Minister's thuggish tactics may play well in the Glasgow gutter, but they look graceless and positively nasty when you occupy the highest position in the land." (10 June). "The Prime Minister will go on clinging to the wreckage, solely concerned with self-preservation, not in the interests of the country." (9 June). "Gordon Brown has lost the personal authority and command that any Prime Minister must have to lead an effective Government." (10 June).
All these critical remarks – and I could supply many more – come from the Daily Mail. The columnists in order are: Max Hastings, Richard Littlejohn, Quentin Letts, Alison Pearson, Andrew Alexander and Peter Oborne. I could offer hundreds more instances from these and other Mail columnists such as Peter McKay and Amanda Platell going back months, if not years.
You may say they are par for the course in a paper not normally friendly to Labour. Yet there is widespread view in the media, often lazily repeated, that the Mail attacks the Government but spares Gordon Brown because of the allegedly close friendship he has with its editor, Paul Dacre. I know nothing about this relationship but I do know that, contrary to media myth, it does not furnish Mr Brown with any protection from the scorn and contempt of Mail writers.