Panorama Reveals the Mind of Patrick Mercer

As has been widely reported, last night saw the broadcast of BBC Panorama‘s investigation into “cash for questions” at the UK Parliament, in which Patrick Mercer MP was secretly filmed accepting funding from a journalist (Daniel Foggo) posing as lobbyist for Fiji. The main outline of the story has been known for several days now; as the Telegraph reported:

A Daily Telegraph and BBC Panorama investigation found that the MP for Newark, had tabled five questions to government ministers and put down a parliamentary motion after being paid £4,000 as part of a contract he believed would earn him £24,000 a year.

..Mr Mercer also established an all–party parliamentary group in support of the cause being promoted by the lobbyists, which he boasted he had persuaded around 20 other politicians to back publicly. He also agreed to provide the fictional client with a Parliamentary pass.

“I do not charge a great deal of money for these things,” Mr Mercer said during a meeting to arrange his “consultancy” fee. “I would normally come out at £500 per half day. So £1,000 a day.”

What came across strongly in the programme was Mercer’s capacity for self-deception. Although he began by claiming not to know much about Fiji (“I have to confess, I have no idea what Fiji is like”), his enthusiasm quickly grew as he sought to persuade himself that acting on behalf of the island would not make him a lobbyist’s creature; unprompted, he came up with his own reason for an interest in the country – issues around Fijian soldiers in the British military – which would also allow him to circumvent a potential conflict of interest over competition between Fiji’s sugar industry and jobs in  his constituency. Mercer also tweaked the wording of the parliamentary motion that was given to him, presumably so that he could feel it was his own, and he was easily reassured when he began to feel unease about the lobbyist’s credentials. For psychoanalysts, the most telling  moment was perhaps when Foggo  fed Mercer some rope by bringing up the issue of human rights abuses in Fiji – Mercer suddenly became very interested in ordering more coffee and ensuring it came with milk.

The programme also drew attention to the way Parliamentary passes are handed around; according to the Times, more than eighty passes given out to members of special interest groups are now under review. Mercer himself told Foggo:

I have three passes, which I’m allowed to give, and one of which is with my full time PA, one of which is out with a chap who used to work with me on the counterterrorism group. Another one’s elsewhere.

It seems somewhat sloppy that Mercer would have left a pass with someone who “used” to work with him – and one would like to know more about this “counterterrorism group”, and about who this “chap” may be. There may well be no cause for concern, but Mercer does not have a record of good judgement here; as Hugh Muir noted on Monday:

Mercer has long been a favourite of tabloids seeking a friendly quote to bolster half-baked stories. And it was in his guise as an expert on all things intelligence that we once had cause to refer to him. He gave high-profile endorsement to Glen Jenvey – a “freelance terror consultant” who fed an inflammatory story to the Sun about a Muslim plot to kill Lord Sugar.

I outlined the fiasco and its aftermath here.

Mercer also worked with a man named Dominic Wightman (at that time, using the spelling “Dominic Whiteman”), who presented himself as an expert in tracking on-line extremism and as the director of a group called the “VIGIL Network”. This was in 2006, at a time when the police were struggling to come to terms with the post-7/7 situation; Mercer arranged for Wightman to visit New Scotland Yard (the two men posed outside the building for a Telegraph puff-piece), and Mercer probably facilitated Wightman’s appearance on BBC Newsnight in November 2006. VIGIL collapsed the following year, in circumstances that showed Wightman to be dishonest and, under a veneer of charm, to be unpleasant – an ex-employee of VIGIL asked Mercer for help in getting £14,000 she was owed, but Mercer made it very clear to her that he was uninterested in helping or in even engaging with her evidence of duplicity; we now know from Panorama that Mercer sees only what he wants to see (more on Wightman here).

By way of a coda, the Panorama programme also featured Mercer making small talk by reminiscing about a recent visit to Israel:

I got a sort of rifle stuck up my nose when I was trying to get into one of the intelligence establishments by, I don’t know, an 18-year old girl wearing uniform, but with her sort of hair in plaits and, and crazy jewellery and open-toed sandals, with a rifle up my nose. And I thought, “who the fuck are you?” You know? “Well I’m a soldier.” Are you? You don’t look like a soldier to me, you look like a bloody Jew. And I’ve no doubt if I’d come up with the wrong answer I’d have had my head blown off.

Probably not the kind of anecdote he would have used in 2010 when he addressed the Zionist Federation of the UK.

UPDATE (15 July): From the Jewish Chronicle:

Under-fire MP Patrick Mercer has offered to ask questions in Parliament on behalf of pro-Israel groups.

Following a meeting with Zionist Federation chairman Paul Charney, Mr Mercer said he was willing to put forward questions in the interest of the Jewish community in an attempt to repair relations after he appeared to make an antisemitic remark.

Mr Mercer said: “I’m putting down a series of questions about various issues that interest me. I’m pretty concerned about the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. I will continue to help my friends in the Jewish community.”

The report says that Charney had written to Mercer after seeing the television programme, and that Mercer “came across as very genuine.”  In June, Mercer said that he would be writing to the Chief Rabbi; it’s not known how that turned out.

Once again, Mercer manages to persuade himself that using his position as an MP to advance his own own self-interest – in this case, the rehabilitation of his reputation rather than receiving extra money – just happily happens to coincide with addressing an issue of public concern. The bad faith and self-delusion are chilling.

2 Responses

  1. Better to have Mercer excluded from British political life, than being in any position of influence any more.

  2. […] Mercer MP, a fellow ex-serviceman. Kemp must have been dismayed when Mercer was recently secretly recorded describing an Israeli soldier as looking like a “bloody Jew”; Mercer is now […]

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