Francis Beckett

When Prime Ministers are really in trouble, they need a war, or at least a foreign enemy to demonise. So I watch Theresa May’s war of words with Russia a little more sceptically than the British media seems inclined to do.

First, I ask the question that former British ambassador Craig Murray is asking. Why has no one mentioned the fact that the nerve agent with which Sergei Skripal and his daughter were attacked is not just manufactured in Russia – but also in Porton Down, just eight miles from where Skripal was attacked. And that the British security services – who are not squeamish about their methods – are just as likely to have wanted Skripkal dead as the Russian ones.
“The idea that the elaborate spy games between world intelligence agencies are a battle between right and wrong, is for the story books” says Murray. 
Second, I wonder about the glee with which the British media contemplate the shutting down of Russia Today.  They claim to care about a free media. Well, to advocate shutting down a newspaper or broadcasting station whose output you dislike doesn’t demonstrate much of a commitment to freedom and plurality of the media.
So I listened with embarrassment to John Humphries on Today this morning, waxing indignantly self-righteous about Russia Today.  They’ve had Ofcom ruling against them, haven’t they? So has the BBC. 
Humphries claimed they’d never allow anyone to call Putin a dictator on Russia Today; but they would, and they do. I’ve been on Russia Today, and I’ve said things about Russia and the Ukraine which, had they been listening, would have infuriated the Russian government, but they go out nonetheless.
No one mentioned that BBC journalism died the day they corporation apologised and fired its chairman and chief executive for offending the then Blair government about its Iraq war.  There are still good people working in BBC journalism, but that day, the day they surrendered to government bullying, free BBC journalism suffered a blow from which it has never recovered.


We’ve been treated to the strange sight of the Daily Mail feigning horror at someone’s fascist past. Of course, they have a reason. Max Mosley has funded and supported Impress, the sort of press regulator Lord Leveson called for in his report, and newspaper proprietors hate. He’s depicted as an enemy of press freedom; actually he fights media bullying.
So let me tell you about Mosley’s fascist past, as only I can do.  I know where Max Mosley was in the fifties, because, spiritually, I was there too.
Children pick up their parents’ ideas by a sort of osmosis. They don’t know they’re doing it. And precisely because they haven’t thought the ideas through, they can, if they are intelligent and instinctively loyal, take them on in a ludicrously exaggerated way.
When I was a teenager, I was certain, in a way I cannot now understand, that the holocaust (I never called it that) was invented by the Jews to further their plan for world domination, and that they had persecuted and imprisoned my father for trying to expose their nefarious schemes.  There was much else besides; but that will do as an indication of the poison in my mind.
My father, John Beckett, was Oswald Mosley’s chief propagandist in the 1930s and edited Mosley’s newspapers. Like Mosley, he was interned during the second world war. I loved my father and believed he had been persecuted by the Establishment and the Jews.
By the time I was 20, I was completely cured (I think cured is the right word). With Max Mosley, it lasted a little longer. That’s easily explained.  My father died in my late teens; Mosley’s father lived well into his adult life.  My father had given up politics well before he died; Mosley’s father was still making absurd attempts at a comeback, and wanted his son at his side.
And, at a London further education college and at Keele University, I met a couple of great teachers who taught me to think.
For Mosley – whom I do not know, but I think I understand – it would have been a matter of loyalty.  You do not abandon your father at his lowest ebb.  If my father had fought a bye-election, as Mosley’s father did, I would have been at his side. 
And the evidence, should any newspaper have a motive to discredit me, would be available to it.
* Francis Beckett’s Fascist in the Family is published by Routledge.

At the Westminster Correspondents annual dinner Wednesday night, I watched a really creepy moment.

After the lobby chairman and Prime Minister Theresa May made their witty. light-hearted speeches, the serious business of the evening was conducted by Sun political editor Tom Newton-Dunn.

He thanked the Prime Minister for upholding press freedom, and said she would have support for "the difficult decisions you have to make in the next six months." Mrs May sat in front of him and simpered.

The terms of trade were terribly clear. In return for abandonning the Leveson report, which she had just done, and refusing to support a genuinely independent press watchdog, the newspaper proprietors are going to bolster her tottering government for a few more months.