When I worked at City Life, in the days when it was a standalone magazine, the joke among staff was that I was a dupe. It was the period between 9-11 and the Iraq War, a very politicised time. I wrote a fortnightly column relating the escapades of anarchists, activists and anti-war protestors. We were based in the M.E.N. offices on Deansgate in the days when the paper was owned by the Guardian.

I saw this and thought of you… x

A gift from an editor, not the biggest fan of my creative crises and deadline-deafness…a book called Everything You Know Is Wrong. The joke went above my head until much later…until an incident at Bootle Street police station several years later, in fact…as I think it was meant to. At the time I just figured he thought I was into conspiracy stuff.

Even on my wedding day they said strange things to me.

“You’re real, Danny. You’re the real thing. Everything you do is real. Nobody was ever as real as you. I’ve never in my left met anyone as real as you. Your politics are so real. This wedding, it’s so real…”

This as we tucked into the buffet and nodded our heads to I Am Kloot.

I had no sense that there was anything unreal about the wedding.

“Thanks mate.”

After the marriage fell apart, with everything that went down with it, I was a bit miffed when the Guardian started running the Spycops story.

 

It was just a couple of years after the trouble at the WTO conference in Seattle, when anti-globalisation protestors had played cat-and-mouse with US cops…dodging teargas, de-glazing brand stores and coordinating their activities with their all-new mobile cell phones. I’d never written about politics – what I wanted to do was write funny stuff that went deep, somehow – but after a Mayday drink with a colleague in St Ann’s Square I decided it might be interesting to find out where Manchester’s own Noughties era fifth column might be found.

That was Hulme, of course, where I was introduced to the leader of an art collective. In council flats on the Redbricks estate – that last echo of the Crescents, redoubt of the middle-class dropout and the dog on a rope – we’d leave our Nokias in a pile in the spare bedroom and get down to the business of plotting direct action anti-war protest.

“What we want is two hijacked lorries jackknifed either side of the M62…”

It all seemed quite impressive, as this Newbury Bypass veteran laid out his latest wheeze to shock the complacency of a city sleepwalking into Blair’s War-for-Oil. As he spoke, he sketched with a marker pen, and the splayed artics on his flipchart morphed magically from two dimensions to three. “…but we won’t get that.”

A pair of X’s went through the trucks, and the dream was downsized to burning sofas. Then, when that action failed to materialize, not even sofas. As the conflict loomed we would hear word of daring operations by shadowy splinter groups as perimeter fences were breached and U.S. airbases broken into. But on our patch subversion proved conspicuouisly thin on the ground.

With the premier at odds with the people, the public mood in the days leading up to the war was tense.

“Why don’t you smash up the Trafford Centre?” I suggested on one occasion. “That might amplify the point you’re trying to make. It might catch on. It might achieve something. You might stop the country going to war.”

“I think we should wait until after the invasion to really make our point.”

I couldn’t quite get my head around these anarchists, at least not at the time.

If the anti-war faction were all talk then the pro-Palestinian front were another thing entirely: here it was all action. Same pool of people, though, largely. In an Oldham Street café bar I met up with a hardened teargas-dodger who had just returned from the West Bank where she’d been volunteering with a group called the International Solidarity Movement. The early months of 2002 had seen Israel re-invade the five major towns: Ramallah, Tulkarem, Qalqilya, Nablus, Jenin. Activists from around the globe were pouring into the territories to enlist as “human shields”, accompanying ambulances and lodging with families vulnerable to eviction.

During a peace march between Bethlehem and Beit Jala a few weeks previously she’d received bullet fragments to her stomach after the IDF had opened fire with live rounds.

“I felt a sense of peace,” she told me of the time she’d just spent in a Palestinian hospital.

“Like for once didn’t have to worry whether you were doing too much or too little?”

“Yeah.”

She made getting shot sound quite good, I thought.

 

In a Yellowbricks community space I attended volunteer training and did a write-up for the magazine. I’d never taken an interest in the Israel-Palestine issue. Until then it had seemed to me a distant conflict between equal sides, neither of whom had much to do with me. What I was interested in was Mancunian peace activists organizing themselves into “affinity groups” – small leaderless cells like the ones the anarchists used in the Spanish Civil War – and practicing “non-hierarchical decision-making”. Why would people fly half way round the world to do that – get shot at and dodge tear gas in the attempt to make it all better?

The next thing I knew I was in Nablus in an ambulance in northern Palestine with a fifteen-year-old boy who’d been shot by the Israeli military.

It was July 2002. The town had been under curfew for more than three months. To get to it we’d had to scramble over the hills bypassing the military checkpoints. What we found was a ghost town, the streets deserted, everyone indoors, a blue sky swimming with kites being flown from the rooftops…and enforcing martial law, a bare handful of patrolling APCs. You could be shot for being outdoors so when one approached you had to back up to the side of the road and hold up your arms with your passport in your hand. The first one we saw…as it drove by they fired the gun on the hood, straight down the street, to shit us up.

The direct-action Champions League, then. But as our little ambulance meandered down mountain roads to the aftermath of a disturbance in Beit Furik, a small town to the southeast, two paramedics and I sang songs as we waited at the checkpoints… twenty, thirty minutes at a time…for permission to proceed.

Looking out across the valley I saw a road skirting the hill which was complete with military hardware, nose to tail…an metal mile of vehicles pulling out of the trouble zone, like something from a WWII movie. When we finally got there the streets were strewn with rubble, evidently the aftermath of a disturbance. In a community centre we found the boy laid out on a table with a hole in his groin. With his mother beside me we took him back to the hospital, waiting twenty and thirty minutes a time at each checkpoint.

 

Tanks and guns are too loud for my ears, and the Palestinian cause, noble as it may be, is not my cause. What I was interested in was young people from Manchester traveling across the world hoping to make things better – so I wrote a series of columns for City Life, then quit the post. I’ll wrote a novel, I thought. On the suggestion of a friend in the book trade I went to see Michael Schmidt, the Carcanet publisher, to seek his help with finding an agent. In his Cross Street office Michael suggested I sign up for his new creative writing Masters degree at MMU. A former girlfriend, who he knew, had done so. Perhaps it would provide a structure for getting something finished?

“The thing is,” I said. “I don’t have a first degree.”

“Oh, I see. Well, we accept A-level graduates if the portfolio is good.”

“I don’t have any A-levels.”

“Ah. What do you have?”

“I’ve got a GCSE in English literature.”

“Oh, I see.” He chuckled to himself.  “Well, we’ll keep quiet about that then, shall we?”

So I signed up.

 

“We must have a festival!”

It was on the stairwell of the Geoffrey Manton Building about twelve months later that Michael came up with the idea of a Palestinian literature festival. I’d just got back from a research trip to the territories, where I’d been taken to An-najah university. Speaking to an administrator there, I’d asked what useful can be done.

“Make links between our people, between our universities,” he said.

So I passed on the message.

A festival though…that looked a bit rough on my skill set, so I banked the idea for a while. In any case, life was unraveling. For one thing, the marriage was weird. If I gave up drinking my missus and I would argue about her trying to trick me into starting again. And the two research trips had been strange. On the terrace of a hostel by the Damascus Gate a Danish nurse from the peace corps had grabbed me by the arm and taken me on a tour of Jerusalem, got me mickey-level drunk and then walked me back to a rented apartment inside the walls of the Old City.

“Your Foreign secretary is a good man, I think.”

It was one of the last things I remember before I blacked out.

Jack Straw?

“Call me names.”

Then at my home there were police callouts. I watched almost as a spectator as a domestic violence situation played out in which the other person created a spectacle almost out of nothing. I had my solicitor write to the police. Mr Moran is being set up. Doubtless it wasn’t the best time to pursue Michael’s festival plan, but at a party I got talking to Chris Gribble, the director at Manchester Literature Festival. He knew Michael and my work, and he liked the idea so we started to talk. A man I knew called Sandy approached me – Jewish chap – offering to help with the organisational side. That seemed a godsend. Then in December 2005 City Life folded. Then I was arrested and bailed from my home. The next day I turned up for a meeting at Sandy’s office and there was a woman there I hadn’t seen for many years. Very flirtatious. She took my number and called me just a few hours later. That night at the bar where I was working a man I knew came to see me. He’d just come back from Israel. Then almost immediately this woman turned up. She said she was worried about him. “I’m taking him home,” she said. In the morning he was dead.

All these things seemed to be happening just beyond range of my understanding: an encounter in an apartment, a drug overdose, and so on.

It was from that point it began to sense a tidal wave was coming. In my head there was this notion…it sounds vainglorious…that I would read the books, invite the guests, play some part in interviewing them, make possible some kind of meaningful cultural exchange. That I could shape the project creatively to some extent while others experienced in event management would take charge of courting the sponsors, printing the programs, making sure everybody was in the right place at the right time.

The problem was, my head was a bomb site. The combined payload of death, divorce and derangement was such that I could scarcely read a word, write a letter, or sit through a meeting without being dragged back to some psychological war zone. I simply couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than a moment. I offered to step aside but there was no one else to do the job. It seemed a good cause so I stayed on. We put in a grant application to the Arts Council for £20, 000 and were advised to proceed on the basis that we would likely get it. Arts Council England put me in touch with the British Council, who were gearing up for that year’s London Book Fair, where the special focus was to be Arabic literature. They offered to pay for flights. UNISON chipped in for production costs. MMU contributed the venue.

The body of Palestinian literature which is available in English translation is not large but there are works of great distinction. No appraisal of eastern culture is mature without acknowledgement of Edward Said’s foundational primer, Orientalism (1978) but for an overview of the canon itself Salma Khadra Jayyusi’s Anthology of Modern Palestinian Literature (1992) is a good place to start. Her introduction tells how the nakba – the destruction of the Palestinian homeland during the 1948 war with Israel – sparked an earthquake in its letters as the written word agonized over the national tragedy. The dominant form, poetry, was alchemized from desert balladry into the higher planes of modernism.

The national poet is Mahmoud Darwish, bard of the bittersweet paradoxes which entwine statehood and self-hood in the same suffocating double bind; whose words, famously, are sung by fieldworkers and schoolchildren across the land. Whenever the Nobel Prize was due to be awarded, Darwish’s would be one of the names bandied about.

With the novel there’s less of a tradition. Sahar Khalifeh’s Wild Thorns (1976) lays bare the dilemmas of life under occupation with a tale of two cousins whose lives diverge starkly in the prelude to a bus bombing; Emile Habibi’s The Secret Life of Saeed (1974) is the story of a luckless fool who through cowardice and collaboration learns counterintuitively the meaning of resistance. More celebrated is the short story writer Ghassan Khanafani, whose novella Men In The Sun (1962) nails the apt Palestinian political metaphor: three refugees pay the driver of a water tanker to smuggle them across the border to look for work. The driver dallies at the checkpoint as they hide in the tank and they roast to death.

“Why didn’t you bang on the walls?” he cries at the corpses.

So much, at least, can authoritatively be said from reading the backs of paperback books.

“What happens if people come and throw rocks at the festival?” I asked Gribble one day, as we drove out to pick up some new office furniture.

Someone had asked me that question.

“Rocks?”

It was a strange way of putting it, of course. Might the festival be attacked? If so by who?

We had no strategy for dealing with it if they did, that was for sure. All we could do was book the guests and hope for the best.

 

Who to invite though? Khanafani was long dead – a Beirut car bomb in 1972 – and Darwish reportedly elusive and in ill health. There had recently been a memoir of note by the exiled poet Mourid Barghouti, called I Saw Ramallah. Having left his home town for university in Cairo shortly before the Six Day War, Barghouti had found himself unable to return for thirty years. When he finally did, in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords, his account of his homecoming was published to international acclaim and translated into English by the Egyptian author Ahdaf Soueif.

Could this be our opening night curtain-raiser…Barghouti and Soueif? There seemed to  be the kernel of something in that. Fearing that guests might be prevented from leaving the territories at the last minute, it might be prudent to pair Palestinians with anglophone counterparts from the diaspora and the West, I thought. It could be done as a gesture of solidarity but on a pragmatic basis too: if the worst came to the worst and there was a no-show on the Palestinian side the festival would not be sunk and the English-speakers could speak up on behalf of those prevented.

With little more depth to the reasoning than that, I sketched out a program of events according to who accepted invitations. Not everybody did: one Friday afternoon I put a letter in the post to Seamus Heaney at his Dublin home; when I arrived at the MLF office on Monday morning the Nobel Laureate had left a message of thanks on the ansaphone.

“Looking at my diary I will be teaching at Harvard that week in October, otherwise I would be at your event.” I had hoped we could pair him with Darwish…two poets who had found a correlative for war in their native landscapes…but it wasn’t to be.

How then to entice Palestine’s fêted national poet?

It was a shot in the arm, at least, to find the proposal warmly received – and worth remembering once the organisers themselves started throwing rocks at each other. For our Saturday night main event Carol Ann Duffy agreed to read with anthologist Jayyusi, while earlier in the day we paired fiction writers Liana Badr – a Ramallah-based author from the Palestinian Authority establishment whose novel A Balcony Over The Fakihani conjures exile in Lebanon – with Samir El-yousef, a London-based Palestinian who had grown up in a Lebanese refugee camp. Leila Al-atrash, a star TV journalist across the Middle East, agreed to read with Nicholas Blincoe, onetime Factory records artist and ISM activist whose novel The Dope Priest had brought Graham Greene-like comedy to the politics of Jerusalem real estate. For the Sunday we paired short story writer Mahmoud Shukair with Palestinian-American poet Nathalie Handal. A panel discussion on Said and a concert with singers Reem Kelani and Guy Garvey were to round things off.

Such was the sketch. But the Lever St office of Manchester Literature Festival was a far from happy place. Beware the psychosis which can betake a man on the verge of losing everything. While Gribble found us a festival manager, Maria, to fill Sandy’s shoes I busied myself squaring up to the dragons circling the project. With the dragon problem multiplying by the day – the danger here would be to think I’m making light of some baseless paranoia in light of time’s restorative powers, and not that there weren’t real dragons – it was beyond me to line manage like a reasonable individual. Under every rock on Manchester’s literature landscape there seemed to be a hornets’ nest, while in London it was just bigger rocks and bigger hornets. At the British Council you had to go through some kind of security pod which scanned your brain for patriotic impulses, and to be fair to them they offered to pay for our guests’ flights. But there was a political game going on down there which seemed beneath the dignity of the institution. Supposedly Soueif had floated a similar project to ours previously, except they didn’t like her because she was opinionated and so our festival had come at just the right time. Why the need to tell us such a thing, though? Everywhere, not just at the British Coucnil, the world of publicly-funded arts provision seemed to come with the scent of second-hand car salesmanship. Why the culture of playing people off? Is that not how we fucked up the colonies in the first place?

The way I saw it, everything else in my life might be down the shit tube but if I was going to do my best for this festival then we should try to get Darwish at any cost. If we pulled that off, then we might have an event on our hands. I traveled to London to meet Mr Hassassian, the Palestinian diplomatic representative, first at the House of Commons, then at his offices in Hammersmith. He offered to make the invitation on our behalf.

I put it to Gribble we open the cheque book on this one.

“He’d put this event on the map, Chris. If it was down to me, I’d offer him a big whack. Five grand, no messing.”

The other writers were on £150 plus per diems.

Five grand?? Five thousand pounds! Are you out of your mind?! You know they all know each other, these writers? If word gets round we pay money like that we won’t have a festival anymore!”

“I don’t think you understand what this means, Chris. This is Mahmoud Darwish, the figurehead of Palestinian letters. This is a Palestinian literature festival. There hasn’t been one before, not like this. There isn’t a literature festival in the world more urgently needed than this one.”

“Danny, if this is the way you think I’m going to have to reconsider the basis of our partnership.”

That was an insult too far as far as I was concerned, what with everything I’d been through to reach this point. So I figured it would be a good idea to go behind his back to the Arts Council and demand autonomy over the budget.

When that back-fired I blew my stack again.

“I’d better go back in and sort that,” I said to Maria as we exited the building.

Leave it,” she hissed. “It’ll be all right.”

 

But of course it wasn’t all right. Word got round. I began to realise everyone hated me. And there were the dragons circling, breathing their grant-assisted fire. With twenty thousand pounds in funding coming our way from the Arts Council their other clients were jockeying for position. As far as I could tell everyone in Manchester’s subsidised arts village was simultaneously competing for funds while being encouraged by the funder to team up, pool economies and make culture-babies together. When we advertised an admin job a local publisher sent his deputy. “Don’t trust him!” Maria screeched, as though he was a live rail I was about to step on. Perhaps he was. Maria had at least worked on festivals before. To me this was new ground. The notion that another ACE client might seek to insinuate himself into your project in order to monitor, exploit, derail or even edge you out of it…I had little desire to swim in such waters but on the other hand I didn’t want the project hijacked off me and thought the least I ought to be able to carry forward from the experience was the credit for having seen it through.

To underline the point I decided the tickets ought to have my name on them:

Danny Moran Presents.

Slowly, I was painting myself into a corner. Slowly, the festival was finding me for a fool. I mean, I could grouse…about death, about divorce politics, about the groupthink of the literature lot. But these things were also external to the main fact. It was my meltdown. My crisis. My bad. There was never any time, never any headspace. My heart was broken. My head was in bits. Everything was ashes. I felt so ill I wanted to die. My stomach lurched. My skin crawled. No intoxicant could relieve the pain. So while Maria booked the taxis and the British Council booked the flights I stared into the abyss of a crisis I helped bring upon myself. I had had this idea that I could interview writers, that that might be the contribution I could make, that people might see that I wasn’t entirely a clown. I should have reversed out of it, taken a step back, seen my folly for what it was, asked people more qualified than me to host the events and take on other key roles and so bring to our festival the dignity it deserved. But I couldn’t. Everything was slipping from my fingers and the more it did the harder I tried to cling to it.

I read no Palestinian literature that year…nothing. Not I Saw Ramallah in Ahdaf Soueif’s translation nor Soueif’s own Booker shortlisted The Map of Love. Not A Balcony Over The Fakihani by Liana Badr. Not Mahmoud Shukair’s short stories. Not A Woman of Five Seasons by Laila Al-Atrash. None of them. In fact, the only thing I read at all was a single poem by Darwish, which I returned to periodically until I knew it by heart and could recite for you now. I wouldn’t know the music of the original but in translation by Munir Akash and Carolyn Forché:

.

 

The last train has stopped at the last platform. No one is there
to save the roses, no doves to align on a woman made of words.
Time has ended. The ode fares no better than the foam.
Don’t put faith in our trains, love. Don’t wait for anyone in the crowd.
The last train has stopped at the last platform. But who
can cast the reflection of Narcissus back on the mirrors of night?
Where can I write my latest account of the body’s incarnation.?
It’s the end of what was bound to end. And where is what which ends?
Where can I free myself of this homeland in my body?
Don’t put faith in our trains, love. The last dove flew away.
The last train has stopped at the last platform. And no one was there.

 

As the minutes drew down on the opening night I sat in my car at the top of Church Street car park and reviewed the options. I could jump, which would at least be popular right now; I could turn the key, hit the gas and drive as far away from Manchester as I could, and try to outrun the whole thing out for as long as possible; or I could walk over to the Geoffrey Manton Building and try to wing it for three days. I hadn’t read any of the books. The writers would be able to tell. I’d put myself down to chair every event and interview every one of them. And I’d put my own name on the tickets.

The atrium at the Geoffrey Manton Building is like an unsupervised reactor pulsating with negative energy. Along the way we’d imagined transforming it into some kind of carpeted bazaar teeming with vigour and life as a welcome to our distinguished guests. But now, beneath the migraine strip-lights of corporate architecture our audience stood sipping wine on bare tiles while at a single trestle table, with a bottle of olive oil and a few bars of fair trade Nablus soap on it, the head of department harangued a shaken vendor to take down an A4 photocopy of the Palestinian flag.

“This is a non-political event! We didn’t agree to this! Take it down!”

Mourid Barghouti, the exiled poet, stepped in to intercede.

“But it is our emblem,” he said.  “It is far more than political.”

“Take it down! This is a non-political event!”

I stood on a soapbox, clinked a glass and welcomed everyone to our little festival “which we hope will be the first of many.” As the audience filed in to Lecture Theatre 1 I took a seat at the podium between Ahdaf Soueif and Mourid Barghouti – Soueif flawlessly austere with her jet hair sprayed solid as monarchy; Barghouti, kind-eyed and snow-haired, with a wistful smile which seemed to reach for the edges of his being. I took a glance at the notes I’d scribbled down from Wikipedia a few moments earlier then opened my mouth and spoke them to the room as though I was Visiting Professor Emeritus in Arabic Literature at the University of Mecca.

If I could only say that what transpired over the next three days was a testament to the power of the will to reflate a vacuum of credibility…the picture was, of course, rather more mixed. My memory is partly a blur, no doubt because there are wounds harboured there. Nonetheless, the raw fact is that six Palestinian writers of note read with counterparts from the diaspora and the English-speaking world, took questions, and engaged in discussion with audiences.

I wanted the earth to swallow me up when on the Saturday morning the man from Manchester Museum, who I had booked to speak about Palestinian connection to the land because I’d seen him talk about it with conviction elsewhere, began to ramble on about “warlike tribes”. I remember the howls of derision as genial Samir El-yousef, who had been raised in a Lebanese refugee camp, told his Palestinian brethren something I’d never heard a Palestinian say before: “You went to war, you lost, get over it.” And I remember Jerusalemite Mahmoud Shukair brandishing his papers aloft and saying: “This is an Israeli passport. How can I be Israeli? I am seven years older than Israel.”

It may or may not have been a triumph. But writers read and audiences came and people seemed warmly disposed to it. How much, in the end, did it matter about the host?

 

At times of providential enclownment the human personality breaks down and a freewheeling imposter replaces him. With no pre-existing muscle memory formatting thought, speech or deed a dangerous lottery ensues in which the maladroit impulse may take many forms. As I crossed paths with Ahdaf Soueif in the atrium I was seized by the impulse to greet her with great courtesy and so somehow, unaccountably, kissed her on the lips. As Carol Ann Duffy donated her fee and went home at the interval of her shared platform reading with Jayyusi, I thanked her for her graciousness as though she’d showered the octogenarian with flowers. As I press-ganged guests to participate in a panel discussion of which they had had no forwarning, Mourid Barghouti protested volubly – “But we were never told about this! We could have presented papers!” – but I strongarmed him through the doors and into the lecture theatre nonetheless.

“Come on, Mourid. If I can wing it, you can.”

If I was Ahdaf Soueif or anyone else from PalFest I might be horrified at the suggestion of any link between the festival we invited her to open and the event she inaugurated in the territories directly afterward. But there we are. Being associated with the Manchester Festival of Palestinian Literature must be a bit like having Trucker’s Weekly in your past when you’re up for the editor’s job at the New York Review of Books.

On the Sunday evening, as we watched Reem Kelani interpret Palestinian traditional song in Matt & Phreds jazz bar, I felt the insanity of it all drain out of me. At least it was over. If only all this had been different. If only there had been the time and the headspace to read and learn about the books. Maybe then this tale would have been about others and not about me.

The tale is about me because of what came next.

 

 

Michael Schmidt did not attend the Palestinian literature festival he had proposed, but at the end of the year he was awarded an OBE. Doubtless, this was recognition for other deeds, though I might suggest his finest contribution may have been to break ground on the idea of a literary lifebuoy for the beleaguered territory. As a half-German with a GCSE in English literature and some sexual abuse in my childhood I was of course uniquely qualified to direct a Palestinian literature festival in a British university – an expert might not have been quite so flexibly amenable to the various blackmailable tricks and traps which seem to go with the game.

Why all the tricks and traps, though?

I mean…Jack Straw??

I didn’t understand the circus which had surrounded the project…the enacted divorce, the death in Salford, the way sentiment seemed to be frenziedly whipped up even beyond what you might expect even for a Palestine project…but it looked to me that whatever was out there was un-concluded.

The following spring I went to see a solicitor to discuss the matter. In the summer I spoke to my constituency office. Then when it became apparent somebody was spying on me, I made an incriminating text search in Google. That should flush out my ex-wife and those idiots from the Cornerhouse bar, I thought.

When the phone call came it was far from unexpected. He had some pictures he “wouldn’t like to spread around” and a friend who was “an ex-Israeli army officer who’s always offering to ‘hit’ people for me.”

“Why don’t you come and see me after August 9th?”

It was July, 2008. I put down the phone, wrote down everything he’d said, and rang the constituency office again. Then I went down there and rang the person back in front of a witness.

When I went to the police no action was taken. When I went back to the police a second time I was shouted down in a Bootle Street interview room by a lodger in my home who had offered to accompany me, who afterwards acknowledged she worked for one of the security services.

She wasn’t any anarchist though. Or a member of the Jewish community. Or someone who had worked on the festival.

She was a fellow journalist – who like me had been on the payroll of The Guardian.

It was then that the penny dropped I was involved with something way too big for me, and I got out of there.

 

Though these events might be thought of as disturbing, to conflate them with the issue of the Arena bombing a decade later might be considered self-absorbed in the extreme. And yet, when the former security correspondent of The Guardian asks, in the context of that tragedy: ‘what is MI5 in Manchester hiding?’ it is still difficult not to respond, as though to a dog whistle: does The Guardian not know?

The Declassified website he writes for contends that the newspaper has become strangely sympatico with the domestic intelligence service in recent years.

Does that supposed situation have any connection to Manchester?

The betrayal of trust the notion implies is shattering to me.

Over the past generation I’ve watched as the pro-Palestinian movement was seemingly built up and then knocked down, as the antisemitism furore saw the Labour party turn on itself and then fail to win power, and like others I’ve occasionally wondered to myself: to what extent – if any – were those flames fanned by the security services? Were they involved in promoting the Palestinian cause in the early 00s? Were they sending ISM activists out to Palestine, and from Manchester?

We should bear in mind Tom Hurndall, of course, the MMU student shot dead in Gaza in 2003 after joining up from the Iraq ‘human shield’ mission.

I’ve watched too as The Guardian started banging out undercover police officers…the so-called ‘Spycops’ affair. I mean no disrespect – the distress of being deceived in such a way I can relate to – but each time I see the paper dredge up a story about some copper who infiltrated Save The Cat! in 1973 and had a baby with one of the activists I can‘t help but think: that’s a horrible, horrible thing, but what’s the story we’re not reading in our copies of the Left’s favourite broadsheet? How much common-or-garden domestic espionage is going on now?