Madeleine's disappearance had pound/dollar signs all over it, almost immediately. Not only were the McCanns trying to build an empire on their daughter's tragedy, but so too were all those jostling for a slice of the cake. Police agencies and charities used the iconic cherubic Madeleine picture to remind us of the vital work they do.
I don't think there can be any doubt that the way in which Madeleine's disappearance was reported came from the 'top'. It wasn't until several years later that the public became aware of the cosying up of Prime Ministers and media moguls, but the enlightened among us knew before.
The 'top' in this case is most likely Tony Blair. By 2007, he knew how to use and manipulate, not only the media, but the secret services. If he stated the parents were innocent, it was the party line. He had appointed to top positions, people he could control and henchmen who would ensure his orders were obeyed. Who knows what means he used, but it might be worth noting that he had under his belt, thousands of names collected during Operation Ore. All hypothetical of course, but considering the lengths he went to, to take us into an illegal war, anything is possible.
What were the benefits to New Labour of siding with the parents and promoting the abduction story? Where to begin. Blair had reached that stage of leadership where he believed he was all powerful, he wasn’t quite referring to himself as the Thatcher ‘we’, but he wasn’t far off it. Our forefathers had the good sense to prepare for the mad as a box of frogs leadership stage, by ensuring PMs don’t serve more than two terms. The backstabbing of their friends and colleagues takes care of the rest.
In 2007, New Labour were promoting the idea of compulsory Identity Cards, and all the benefits of compiling a national database, which would include our DNA. Only pedophiles and criminals have anything to fear they said, thus sparking social media division as the sanctimonious preached the benefits of a national database, while accusing those who could see all the dangers of being criminally minded and worse.
For the benefit of those wearing blinkers and ear plugs and the terminally thick, let me shout it out. A database holding all our private and confidential details is a huge threat to democracy. Theoretically a ruling government could stay in power forever. Eleven years on my fears are now moot - we already give so much of ourselves on social media, the ‘Lists’ have been compiled. Eg. Cambridge Analytica. We could say at least these lists are not compiled by a sitting government, but it’s worse, they are being compiled by people who know what they are doing. Apparently it is possible profile a person’s character from just 10 tweets.
In reflecting on this case, we have to consider the political and cultural climate in 2007. The internet was in its infancy, and all sorts of entrepeneurs and wannabe billionaires were thinking up ways in which to capitalise on the wonders of the world wide web. Dr. Evils everywhere were stroking cats and dreaming of world domination. Top of a wannabe tyrant's wish list would have been a database of every citizen containing their entire medical, financial and possibly criminal records. Accessible to who? Government employees, the police, the local authorities, vindictive neighbours?
How do you persuade voters that a national database is the best idea since sliced bread? You create fear. Fear of terrorism for example, rouses up the patriots and the right wing loons do the rest. For a government eager to bring in ID cards and compulsory DNA testing, the disappearance of Madeleine was manna from heaven. Possibly the most appealing tot ever to have gone missing, her face was used unscrupulously to suggest children being taken from their beds was a regular occurrence, and every child was at risk. If it could happen to responsible, highly educated professionals, it could happen to anyone.
That was Myth One. If that wasn’t enough to send anxious parents scuttling to have their babies DNA stored and tracking chips planted under their skin, it was supported by Myth Two. There are thousands of pedophiles, disguised as normal people, lurking in our midst. Especially on the internet. A special force was needed to track them down to prevent further ‘Madeleines’. They were desperately trying to link the disappearance of 3 year old Madeleine to grooming online. The still new internet offered all sorts of opportunities to gain access to people’s personal online activity. Some hoped, and still hope, that Law and Order can be imposed on the internet. Undesirables removed and all that sort of thing. Crime has changed, pickpockets no longer knock you over the head and steal your purse, they friend you on social media and get your bank details.
Whilst the police might have identified new areas of crime on the internet their powers are pretty much restricted by our rights to freedom of speech. There is no actual physical violence, and it is debateable whether really, really, horrible words, are just as hurtful as a punch in the mouth. Unfortunately, oiks are oiks wherever they may be, they cannot be removed from society just as they cannot be removed from the internet. Cries of shock, horror and 'it shouldn't be allowed' won't ever make social media a walk in the park for the easily offended, and to be fair, shock/horror is pretty much what the troll is going for. Dragging social inadequate off in chains will never remove the problem of getting rid off those who disagree with you online. Just as soon as you hang one unwashed miscreant upside down in a dungeon, a hundred more appear. The sane get that. The fearful and the paranoid do not. And in any event, an internet crime force wouldn’t have prevented Madeleine from being taken, she was only 3, she didn't use the internet.
But back to the machinations of those in power. As daft as the masses are most of the time, they still have to be persuaded that handing over all their personal details and blood, is for the greater good. Most of the Madeleine publicity was about spreading the fear. It broke friendships and divided family like no other human interest story in history. Those who believed in abduction, also believed in the ‘Bogeyman’ and the need for tanks to be sent into Heathrow. Non believers were subversives on the outer fringes of society, united by their intense hatred of anyone goodlooking or well off. Malcontents, driven by emotion and envy, the backstreet kids laughing at the Emperor in the nip, whilst the sanctimonious and smug middle classes admired the fine cloth.
As if young parents didn’t have enough to worry about, they now had to fear their children being stolen from their beds. Not that anyone would have been stupid and reckless enough to leave their babies alone in a holiday apartment in the first place. To convince us of the parents fragrant lifestyle, we were sold decent, God fear, law abiding folks. The McCanns became Stepford’s First Family. Perfect in every way. Perfect home, perfect marriage, perfect friends (‘do you have faith in your friends Kate?’ ‘Yes, 100%’) perfect holiday - no discord whatsoever. OK, it was mostly Team McCann selling Gerry and Kate as the world’s most responsible parents, but it gelled with New Labour’s agenda to scare the bejesus out of anyone with kids.
The McCanns wanted stricter border controls, Madeleine was ‘taken’ by a swarthy fellow. They wanted DNA stores, maybe even microchipping, more hell for people passing through borders. They also led the movement to gag the press. ALL stories about Madeleine should be run by them first. Most of their demands could have come straight from the script of a Trump Rally. From a NL perspective, they were probably thanking the McCanns for doing their job for them. Spreading the fear in order to introduce new legislation that would allow them to spy on anyone they wanted.
As it turned out, the internet has not been the threat to our safety the fearmongers predicted. They still cannot police social media, because it is owned by private individuals who’s aims are philanthropic. I side with Zuckerberg, not even he could have imagined the impact Facebook would have on democracy. He has reacted to the flaws in FB, obviously working towards new and innovative ways to keep FB to it’s original principles. We should thank whatever Gods there may, that those on Silicon Valley are for the many, not the few. Blair’s hopes for social media included getting a slice of the action. Jim Gamble for example wanted donations for his department, for providing a policing service that the owners of social media didn’t want and refused to pay for. What brave new world is this that private individuals can tell PC Plod to naff off. These new Masters of the Universe, accept the concept of personal responsibility. Most people can be trusted to behave themselves online, to behave as they would in the ‘real’ world. That’s why social media has been so successful. Twitter for example, would never have got off the ground if it had begun with a bunch of monitors censoring every tweet.
Social media is now the only battlefield - for literally everything. It is the political arena that dominates news worldwide. Major news stories are ‘chip paper’ within hours, sometimes minutes. Trump runs his presidency on twitter. Literally anything he tweets will wipe all previous breaking news off the front pages. For winners of libel payouts, any victory they may have will be short lived. On the internet, the libel laws of old barely apply, law making simply cannot keep up with the advances in technology.
But back in 2007, almost anything was possible, including brainwashing the public on a scale never seen before. That it didn’t work out, is just gravy now. Selling a child abduction story in 2007 was vastly different to how it would be today and history has been far from kind to the parents and the tapas group’s telling of events. And even less kind to the Madeleine Fund.
Madeleine’s disappearance tied in with the ‘pedophiles everywhere’ message the Blair government and certain individuals were trying to promote. It was, as it were, at the centre of a perfect storm. It fit like a missing piece to a puzzle, the sum of all our fears, a small innocent child stolen by one of these bogeymen they had been warning us about. Think of the children they yelled, as the sanctimonious are inclined to do. Your children are prey to monsters unless they are fitted with tracking devices. Welcome to a future even the pessimistic George Orwell couldn’t imagine.
Tough for Team McCann that things didn't work out quite as they had dreamed in 2007. Despite all their libel actions, that cloud of suspicion hasn't gone away, and they can't move on until it does. They will of course still blame Goncalo Amaral, blind to the fact that their irrational hatred of the detective who searched for their daughter is one of the main reasons people do not believe them.