Visiting iniquity of tabloids on all newspapers

1995 library filer of Chris Moncrieff. Photo by Peter Smith/PA
1995 library filer of Chris Moncrieff. Photo by Peter Smith/PA
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No wonder Fleet Street – and indeed the rest of the British press – is in a fury over Lord Justice Leveson’s 2,000-page report on press ethics.

It represents a master-class in the erosion of free speech. During the course of the inquiry, Leveson waspishly rebuked one of the witnesses, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, saying, in effect, that he did not require any advice on free speech from that quarter. Well, it is plain that he would have benefited from such advice. Because the principal recommendation that regulation of the press should be underpinned by legislation would mark the last days of a free press as we have known it for hundreds of years. And the Prime Minister is to be congratulated on having made this point in Parliament immediately after publication. It is outrageous that the wrongdoing of a small number of people in the newspaper industry should mean the press is to be punished as a whole. These people, against whom allegations have been made, are now having to face the rigours either of the civil law or the criminal law. Why should the vast majority of good people who work in the newspaper industry have to pay a price for the misbehaviour of a tiny minority? And, despite the clamour of the Hacked Off campaigners, the great British public would be paying a price, too. If legislation had already been in force, then the MPs’ expenses scandal might never have come to light. And don’t forget it was a newspaper that uncovered the phone-hacking scandal. Attempts have been made to get Lord Justice Leveson to give evidence to the Commons Culture Select Committee. At the time of writing, there has been no response. Yet he tootles off to Australia to deliver two lectures on this very subject. It makes you weep.

l I do not know how people such as Stephen Fry et al have the brass neck to complain about the amount of support taxpayers give to the Arts.

The new Culture Secretary Maria Miller has described their gripings variously as “disingenuous”, “outrageous”, and in the realms of “pure fiction”. I am merely astonished at the moderation of her language.

Just look at the facts. The Government has ensured no frontline Arts organisation has had its budget cut by more than 15 per cent, whereas the police budget in England and Wales, for instance, has seen reductions of 20 per cent. And yet still they complain.

Many people in the Arts make a good living out of it. But many taxpayers have problems to make ends meet. So why should these grandees demand more from taxpayers, many of whom may not have the slightest interest in the Arts and never benefit from the money they are forced to pay into it?

Miller must be tempted to turn the tap off altogether and make them stand on their own feet. They would never recover from the shock.

l We all know that by-elections for Parliament as well as local elections invariably “punish” the government of the day and that journalists (myself included) often report that if the result of such and such a by-election were replicated at a general election, then the government would be out on its neck.

In general, by-elections are a notoriously bad guide to what is likely to happen at the next general election. Some people - even government supporters - exploit by-elections to give the incumbent administration a kicking, knowing that this will act (or should act) as a dire warning to the government that it is falling short - but no more than that.

Even so, David Cameron would be foolish not to take serious account of what happened at last week’s Rotherham by-election.

It was retained, as expected, by Labour - but the Conservatives came a disastrous fifth. This looked to be more serious than merely a kick in the pants from unimpressed supporters.

The Conservatives were beaten by Ukip, the British National Party and, to cap it all, George Galloway’s Respect Party. Rarely has a government been so humiliated at a by-election.

Cameron must have been delighted that this by-election, and others last week, were totally overshadowed by the publication of the Leveson report.

But that does not make it any easier for the Tories to swallow.

And where were the Liberal Democrats in all this? A very good question.

Let us put it this way: Nick Clegg was not exactly beating his breast in triumph at the outcome of these polls. He must be fearing for his future at Westminster.