So, Hugh Grant’s at it again! His supporters’ club must be dwindling by the minute. But none of it would matter too much were it not for the fact that he insists on lecturing us on matters which have a distinct whiff of humbug about it.
Nothing irritates the British public so much as hypocrisy. While Grant’s latest antics seem only a short step from the broom cupboard episode of poor Boris Becker, at least Becker showed genuine humility at how he had let himself and his fans down. But the self-obsessed, narcissistic Hugh Grant shows none. What’s more, Becker has demonstrated over the year a touching regard for his child, shock as it was and totally unplanned for, and knowing as he did what opprobrium that incident brought down on his otherwise lustrous head. He has nonetheless shown himself to be a marvellous father and totally, in my eyes, redeemed himself for that moment of madness.
Forgive my scepticism in Grant’s case (notwithstanding a few fine words from him), but looking at his track record I shall be very surprised if fine words translate into reality ten years down the line. Yet I hope, for his child’s sake, that I am proved wrong.
Grant has had a lot to say recently about press intrusion, and it does worry me tremendously that this inquiry into the Press Complaints Commission has so many people on it that seem ill disposed towards the press (including people who, for want of a better term, have been caught out at one time or another: Keith Vaz is one who immediately springs to mind). The political establishment will find it difficult to forgive the humiliations of being exposed as venal and self serving in the expenses scandal. It is a running sore which some politicos believe cries out for vengeance. I hope the majority are public spirited and big enough to acknowledge that the press were doing no more than their job – indeed their duty – in bringing it to the attention of the public.
But let me be quite clear about one thing. We are talking about the most vibrant and fearless national press in the whole world; an institution of which we should all be proud. And while in pursuit of stories, some of its people have been over zealous and crossed the line in to criminality, we have perfectly good laws which could have dealt with these matters, if only the Met had been doing its job.
It cannot be repeated too often that it was the press which blew the whistle on itself over phone hacking. I never subscribed to the venerable (in age) News of the World, but how I grieve for its demise. It’s a bit like that old saying ‘the death of any man diminishes us all’. Well, the death of the NoW has diminished us. It was offered up as a sacrificial lamb in the hope that it would silence the baying hounds, when in truth it should have been James Murdoch and his band of miscreants who were offered up. The paper had by then been cleaned up (Rebekah Brooks excepted), but as usual it was the ‘poor bloody infantry’ that was laid on the altar.
While watching BBC2 recently, who popped up lamenting the invasion of people’s privacy? Yes, you’ve guessed it: our old friend Hugh. It was truly nauseating listening to him. Equally vociferous in the cause of muzzling the press has been Max Moseley (caught out by the News of the World). For all its sometimes sanctimoniousness, and often own hypocrisy as well sleaziness, the News of the World could still boast a proud record of expose. How many, many were the stories down the years – which the public had every right to know about – did it break in its 168 years of publishing? Sad, sad that it has gone. Even the sleaziness – or most of it – can be forgiven. Experience has shown that an element of tittilation is required to spice up sales. I would argue that it is a small price to pay to help in the battle for survival. Sad, sad that it has gone.
It is uniquely difficult in today’s high speed, digital world to maintain a financially viable press, and many regional papers are having tremendous difficulty competing for readers’ attention. Many are closing. They will never return. We risk, at our peril, taking away their necessary freedoms (which in any case are subject to strict laws of defamation).
When I was in the States recently, I had an object lesson in how very good our press is by comparison. Theirs was boring, parochial and expensive. The BBC’s founder, Lord Reith, spelled out what he saw was the Corporation’s duty to the public: it was “to inform, educate and entertain.” Our press does that in bucket fulls. Let’s keep it that way.
The shock decision to shut down the biggest circulation newspaper in the English speaking world, the 168-year-old News of the World, once with a circulation pushing 9m, seems to me like the ruthless act of a ruthless duo (father and son) intent on securing BSkyB at all costs; a sacrificial offering perhaps to quieten the baying mob.
While we must never forget the titanic struggle that the younger Murdoch waged against the tyrannical print unions and what the British newspaper industry owes to him, we must equally never allow one individual to become over-mighty in the media. The organs that inform public opinion have the capability to pervert the democratic process if too much power is concentrated in too few hands. As astute a businessman as ever there was, Rupert Murdoch has always had the air of a buccaneering freebooter who would stop at nothing to achieve his ends.
Big as he is in this country, profits are ten times bigger in the United States. Power almost unfettered on both sides of the Atlantic. Now, surely, is the time to call a halt. This may be our last chance. The politicians of Britain have been running scared of him for years. We know that Blair and his crypto mafioso would stoop to any lengths to appease him and now it is apparent that the hoped for new broom in the form of the Coalition government is treading the same path. Doesn’t that tell you all you need to know?
It is disconcerting, to say the least, that the woman whom Murdoch seems intent on saving was editor of The News of the World when the worst of the phone hacking took place. Furthermore, she has bought a house barely a mile from the home of the Camerons and is now a regular visitor, even accompanying Samantha on horsey excursions into the countryside. How she can stay at her post while the ‘poor bloody infantry’, almost all of whom joined after the hacking ended, are put out to pasture beggars belief. Then there is the added poor judgement displayed in taking a discredited News International editor right into the heart of the government machine at Downing Street as communications director against a plethora of warnings from distinguished sources. Our Dave chose to take him at his word that he had done nothing wrong and didn’t bother to do the vetting that is deemed necessary for all who are privy to goverment secrets.
Good as Cameron’s instincts are, and speedy, thrusting and reforming as his government is, it is a clear demonstration how the younger man will often not make the wise choices that the older would… See also how the 37-year-old Chancellor in waiting chose to make his ill-advised and foolish visit to the yacht of the Russian oligarch, Deripaska, it is said to solicit funds for the Conservative Party in the run-up to the election. Perhaps Ministers of the Crown should be above a certain age before they can put themselves forward for high office. I would, of course, make an exception for the incomparable 24-year-old Prime Minister Pitt the Younger who led us in the long war against Napoleon. He was a one-of; truly a chip off the old bloc. His father, Pitt the Elder, gained us 200 years of world supremacy following the Seven Years War. Then there is the younger Churchill who left a trail of catastrophic blunders in his wake whereas the older, when he took the helm at 65 against Hitler, never put a foot wrong. Perhaps it would have been different if Mrs T had been Cameron’s mother, but then perhaps not; look at Mark.