Anthony Hilton: If all else fails the mud starts flying

One of the things I had forgotten about George W Bush's America, but which came back to me on re-reading a collection of Paul Krugman's New York Times articles published in book form as The Great Unravelling, was how consistently the Bush administration saw off its critics by smearing them.

Anthony Hilton
Anthony Hilton

After the World Trade Center attack in 2001 everything Bush wanted to do - from tax cuts for the rich to lifting the ban on oil drilling in the Arctic lands - was wrapped in the flag of defence and homeland security. Any critic of tax policy or defender of the environment was branded as unpatriotic. Their credibility was undermined and the merits of what they said got lost.

It is a bit of a stretch to say the same thing is happening here but there are enough straws in the wind to justify drawing attention to it. Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King, for example, has emerged as a notable critic of Government fiscal policy. One way of dealing with this would be to engage with King's arguments on their merits. Instead he has been smeared by those mysterious people 'close to the Prime Minister', who so often appear as a source for stories, as being little more than a stooge for the Tories.

Bizarrely, a similar thing happened last weekend to Lord Myners, the former fund manager who is now the minister for the City, in which position he has been a robust critic of some of what the City does. The smear in his case was a story in last week's Sunday papers that he is going to study theology - the logic being that if he is drawing his inspiration from God, then one can ignore his views on Mammon.

Then we have the row over a loan of £1.5m granted by Mike Ashley, boss of Sports Direct, to Sir David Jones, now chairman of rival JJB Sports. The justification for the story is that Jones allegedly is conflicted by owing a large sum to the head of a competitor. No-one has described these conflicts. But the more the story distracts JJB management, the weaker its position becomes. And who, one wonders, might benefit from that?

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard

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