Saturday 10 October 2009

The Kaminski files

The Conservative Party has claimed that all scrutiny of Michal Kaminski, the controversial leader of its new grouping in the European Parliament, is somehow a Labour smear campaign. However, it was Tory MEP Edward McMillan-Scott who led the challenge to Kaminski over the last four months, losing the Tory whip as a result.

But this seems to me to be becoming an ever less convincing defence. But an increasing number of serious Conservatives must now be concerned at mounting evidence mounts up of a lack of due diligence by the party. And it appears that Kaminski has given several contradictory public accounts of the central issues of controversy over his own political journey, and alleged involvement with far right groups and causes.

There is quite a difference of opinion at the Jewish Chronicle, and it is to the newspaper's credit that it airs it in public.

Editor Stephen Pollard (a one time Fabian research director back in the day) goes steaming in with a characteristic polemic attacking Kaminski's opponents.

Have a look at those who are leading the attack on Mr Kaminski: Eurofanatics to a man. Here in the UK, the politics are simpler: Labour have grabbed what they see as an opportunity to attack the Conservatives, resorting to the smear tactic that is so often the last resort of the desperate.

But Pollard's view is rather undermined by his new political editor Martin Bright's Jewish Chronicle interview with Kaminski.

The Polish MEP seeks to offer a similar defence to that in his conversation with Iain Dale for Total Politics, in which Kaminski claims that "all the accusations against me were false" but Bright often proves more effective in terms of journalistic scrutiny and challenging him on the more controversial points of his defence of his political journey.

This leads Bright to take a rather different view to his editor, pointing out to several alarm bells based on the interview:

It is now obvious that the Tories did not carry out due diligence. Dismissing concerns raised about Mr Kaminski as Labour smears is just not good enough.

Perhaps I should declare a potential bias in that Martin and I were colleagues at The Observer several years ago. But it would be widely acknowledged - not least by the Ken campaign as well as his Spectator colleagues - that he makes a very unlikely Labour stooge.

One thing which might well worry the Conservative leadership is that not all of Kaminski's statements seem to stand up well to scrutiny. Here are four examples.

1. Dale reports that Kaminski charges the New Statesman with shoddy journalism, in his claim that "Rabbi Schudrich made it very clear that he didn’t want to make any political statements about me, but he wanted to make clear that he has nothing against me and does not regard me as an anti-Semite".

Dale appears to take this at face value, writing that Kaminski "accuses the New Stateman of shoddy journalism over its recent story attributing comments to Rabbi Shudrich, which he says he never made". But the claim that the comments were never made comes from their subject, Kaminski, and not from Shudrich himself. So it would have been prudent to check Kaminski's allegation with the NS or Shudrich prior to publishing it.

The New Statesman's James Macintrye has today published a July 2009 email from Schudrich which would appear to refute Kaminski's account in Total Politics:

I do not comment on political decisions. However, it is clear that Mr Kaminski was a member of NOP, a group that is openly far right and neo-nazi. Anyone who would want to align himself with a person who was an active member of NOP and the Committee to Defend the Good Name of Jedwabne (which was established to deny historical facts of the massacre at Jedwabne) needs to understand with what and by whom he is being represented.

2. Toby Helm of The Observer, who was present at the high profile Jedwabane commemoration in Poland in 2001, blogged on Wednesday that his party first reported on Kaminski's controversial history in July before the Labour Party was aware of the issue.

Helm writes that

David Cameron should know that in an interview with the Observer in July KamiƄski denied ever having been involved in the campaign in the town [Jedwabne] to prevent an apology. I have him on tape denying it.

Kaminski does not now maintain that position and instead seeks to contextualise his opposition, rather clumsily telling the JC that "If you are asking the Polish nation to apologise for the crime made in Jedwabne, you would require from the whole Jewish nation to apologise for what some Jewish Communists did in Eastern Poland".

Yet Helm supplies plenty of evidence that Kaminski appears to have a rather slippery and selective memory, and has given several apparently contradictory accounts of his position.

3. Kaminski told the Daily Telegraph that he was a member of the fsr right NOP 'National Rebirth of Poland' party only between the ages of 15 to 17, as part of the underground resistance under Communism. But the newspaper reported that the NOP party had him registered as a member for two to three years after 1989, between the ages of 17 and 20. McMillan-Scott accuses Kaminski of attempting to edit his own Wikipedie entry to cover up his membership.

4. Finally, Kaminski's clarification today, after the JC went to press, about his wearing of the Chrobry sword, a Falangist symbol of Catholic totalitarianism, seems to me to raise as many questions as it answers.

As this was the main symbol of the radical Falangist movement in Poland from 1935, Kaminski's claim that its far right associations are recent is questionable, and his analogy with recent attempts by the BNP to claim the Union Jack seems a very poor one.

UPDATE [Monday 12th]:

Toby Helm published a long article in Sunday's Observer, along with a news report and a commentary from Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

The most effective defence of Kaminski would be that he has matured so that his views have changed very significantly since his membership of the far right NOP, and when he was the rising star of radical Catholic Polish nationalist politics a decade ago. But that would surely be more plausible if he had given a more accurate account of his political journey.

The Observer reports Conservative Europe spokesman Mark Francois saying that "People of goodwill in Poland took different views of the then president's apology for the Jedwabne atrocity. Some, like Michal Kaminski, did not agree with it. Others did".

With this formulation, Francois ducks the absolutely central point in this controversy. There may well have been people of goodwill who legitimately disagreed on democratic grounds about the form or nature of the Polish apology in 2001. Yet senior Conservatives will surely acknowledge the evidence that not all of the opposition to the apology was founded in "goodwill". The Polish Chief Rabbi states his belief that those who opposed the apology because they wanted to 'protect the good name of Jewadbne' did so "to deny historical facts about the massacre".

What remains confused is what role Kaminski played in this opposition. Kaminski told The Observer in July that he had no role at all - "I never tried to stop an apology" and that he had always supported the commemoration.

That is evidently not true - so nobody now claims this, including Kaminski himself, nor the Conservative party.

Without a fuller account of what role Kaminski played in this opposition, it would surely be premature for the Conservatives to confidently declare that his arguments and associations in that cause would meet Francois' attribution of "goodwill". That is why the question of what the Conservatives asked him about this - before the group was formed, or when the reports appeared in July - and whether he told them the truth if they did seems an important one.

Nor does Kaminski's claim in July that ""I never said it. It is absolutely not true ... I never gave an interview" stand up against verified reports of his 2001 call for a Jewish apology stand up. Indeed, he now repeats the same call himself, telling Martin Bright that an apology from the "whole Jewish nation" would be required for him to support a Polish apology of the type given in 2001.

What is surely beyond doubt from Helm's account is that - this summer - Kaminski responded to inquiries about his past with a series of evasions, half-truths and a number of public statements which have been shown to be demonstrably false. (Those denials could have a range of motivations - not necessarily covering up something sinister; they could simply have been a political calculation, hoping that awkward and inconvenient questions would go away).

The Conservatives seem to remain dug in to a full defence of Kaminski. It would be very surprising if they remain privately sanguine about just how often the leader of their new European group seems to have been prepared to be economical with the actualite.

1 comment:

Robert said...

The Tories must be worried about this.