Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Prerogative of the Harlot

I have to say I'm not surprised to learn of David Laws' resignation this evening - though emphatically I'm not celebrating. As soon as David Cameron pledged higher standards for MP's in the Coalition, the die was cast for anyone who fell short. The unfortunate truth for Mr Laws is that his transgression would have cost him a Cabinet job in the last Government, so it certainly did for him now.

The whole episode raises some important questions about the press in Britain today. In the last few weeks we've has the News of the Screws 'Fake Sheikh' doing over poor Fergie, and immediately after the election the Mail on Sunday holed England's World Cup bid below the waterline with its sting on Lord Triesman.

Now the Daily Telepgraph, bastion of the old Right in the Tory Party, has nailed its colours to the mast by finishing the career of easily the most talented LibDem to sit in Cameron's cabinet. Anyone who thinks this was purely an act of investigative journalism needs to take a reality check. The Telegraph has been trawling round MP's expenses for over a year now. It beggars belief that this information has only come to them now. Instead, they've waited until Laws was nicely esconced into his role as Chief Secretary to the Treasury before running a story that has done a lot of damage to the Government's short-term credibility. If I were a Parliamentary LibDem right now, especially in Government, with a secret I'd rather not let my constituents (or family) know about, I'd be getting worried.

What should the response of the public be to this thoroughly unpleasant development in our jornalism. Over on his blog, Pete Barron addresses the issue via Newcastle United's response to the Triesman debacle. Newcastle have banned the Mail stable from its matches. Pete says he has doubts about the wisdom of the Mail's story, but thinks Newcastle's action is folly. he compares it with George Reynolds barring the Echo from Darlington's games in the past.

This is a fraught issue. Of course meglomaniacs like Reynolds had to be challenged when they responded to even minor criticism in that way. But the Mail On Sunday wilfully destroyed the career of a decent public servant and did untold damage to England's bid on the basis of a private conversation that was never meant to be repeated.

Politicians, of course are in a no-win situation when it comes to the operation of the press, and the national print media knows it. Quite rightly, the British public would react violently against anything which smacks of muzzling the press. Even the relatively-moderate idea of a statutory Press Commission, with real teeth to punish transgressions, has never got off the ground.

So the question back to Pete has to be - if you are aggrieved by a partisan or destructive piece of journalism in a particular paper, how should you respond? I don't know how many Liberal Democrats buy the Daily Telegraph, (not many, I guess) but my sense from the comment thread on Conservative Home tonight is that quite a few moderate Tories will be considering whether to renew their subscriptions.

In the 1980's, when it was at the height of its baying right wing ascendancy, the Sun ran a notorious piece blaming Liverpool fans for the tragedy at Hillsborough. The city of Liverpool responded, almost to a man and a woman, by boycotting the paper. It was a supreme act of collective action. Ever since, the Sun has trodden on eggshells when the issue has been raised.

It seems that in today's journalism, the one language proprietors understand isn't right or reason, but the bottom line. If Newcastle United feel strongly enough to start a commercial war with the Mail stable, then good on them I say. They (and we) have precious few other ways to let our disgust be known.

2 comments:

On the Fiddle :( said...

But the Mail On Sunday wilfully destroyed the career of a decent public servant...

who was on the fiddle!

He should have come clean last year when the expenses scandle broke and it would have by now been out of the way for him....

No sympathy here!

All I see is a way for the Con's to remove the Dem part from the ConDemned alliance it so begrudgingly had to make to stop Labour.

Perhaps it's time to call another election, clearly these toffs don't want the Lib's in their "sand pit" and are not prepared to play nice.

Cameron wants change ....well give him 30p and tell him to **** off!

miketually said...

"But the Mail On Sunday wilfully destroyed the career of a decent public servant...

who was on the fiddle!
"

Different public servant...