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Editor, John Evans

Political Commentary: Leveson Lament

Nick Clegg

Why do politicians dump seemingly intractable problems into the laps of judges and lawyers?

Haven’t they learnt yet that legal eagles will take years to come to the conclusion that new laws are the only answer, while politicians will leap to legislate and play brinkman politics.

What starts as quite a simple problem that the law is fully equipped to handle — hacking phones, for example — swiftly becomes a lengthy “national debate”, a matter of conscience, and interminable party political shenanigans. Thus is Leveson.

Most of us don’t have a big stage to act out passing events on, so we tend to apply common sense. On Leveson we have concluded that the press has suffered enough for its sins, with one top-selling newspaper biting the dust, scores of journalists sent to prison — with some still pending — and millions voluntarily paid out to victims by the biggest proprietor. Even Satan would regard that as punishment enough.

Can’t the politicos see that the shock to the system administered to journalists and editors will deflect them from such acts for half a century or more? The law has already had its hundredweight of flesh. There really is no more left to compensate for MPs’ fury over their expenses exposure.

Psychologically, a powerful, shaming taboo has been erected by circumstances. No more action need be taken. The hatches are firmly battened down, never to rise again in our lifetimes.

Destroying the 300-year freedom of the press after all that, would be politics gone beserk and only deprive our civilisation of one of its most cherished pillars: freedom of expression.

Acts of spite and petty revenge may give some satisfaction to inadequate personalities, but the price to pay is that society as a whole is diminished. We have been diminished enough in recent times.

The events of this century so far only confirm what the public already suspects: They are all in it together!

John Evans

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DIARY: Leveson lament, River ramblings, Poppycock Watch: Autumn Statement, Mark Carney, Profundity of the Week

Monster

What are we to make of the much-anticipated Leveson Report on the behaviour of the Press? The more one examines it, the more holes it reveals.

At first glance, two points stood out for me. The main one was the unexpected intrusion of “statutory underpinning”, a phrase meant to reassure, but had the opposite effect. Shades of Moscow and Beijing and dark forebodings of rampings up to come.

The other was the dropping in of that most tiresome of quangos, Ofcom. Apart from anything else its head is appointed by government, so represents, for the first time, an official interference in the workings of a Press that has been free for more than 300 years.

Shami Chakrabarti, a Leveson committee member and head of Liberty — a quango-esque outfit — seemed more than a little confused, backtracked on Marr, then appeared to do a backflip on the Today programme.

As a specialist lawyer in the field, if she can’t make sense of it, how are the rest of us meant to? There are far too many loopholes in Leveson for my liking.

It was interesting to see Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, a cultural magazine that never dies, take a stand against the whole package. Could he ultimately be jailed for his rebellion? Unlikely, I would think, given the hardening of attitudes in Fleet Street.

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg made fools of themselves, jousting for attention and significance. An inadequate showing.

While the Prime Minister was right to reject the statutory angle, he should probably revisit his apparent support for Ofcom involvement. The status quo seems the safest option.

* * * * *

This morning was one of those frequent days here on the Devon-Cornwall peninsula when the seasons go haywire.

Rough northerlies switch to the west and the breeze comes in off the Azores like an angel’s kiss — as the Poet put it. Along the river, shrubs often bloom erratically right up until January, while local people lunch outside at riverside cafes even in February.

Thus it was this morning. Springlike and bracing, the waterbirds making the most of the break from drear winter with its occasional reminders of the Northlands.

On the river — now thankfully back to sedate normality after last week’s flood surge — our lone black swan has returned from his summer break. Incredibly, he has brought a mate with him (see my picture).

Black Swan
Black Swan’s mate

Last spring, he was rather isolated from the white swan colony and often seemed agitated. Now he has a faithful companion whom I’ve named Tonto — even though she’s a girl.

Unusually, beneath her black wing feathers there are some that are snow white. Clearly she’s something of a cross which, instead of producing a greyer colouring, has given her a chequered appearance, especially when preening.

The question now is will they produce cygnets in the spring? That really will draw in the crowds with their cameras and bags of ghastly white bread as offerings to the inhabitants of the waterside.

River cafes are the order of the day here.

* * * * *

Poppycock Watch
I suppose I should say something about this week’s major event: Exeter Chiefs’ victory over Wasps in the Rugby Premiership Wednesday’s Autumn Statement.

George Osborne is the Lone Ranger these days. Even Tonto has deserted him for a berth on the River Exe [an oblique reference to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Black Swan]. However, all is not irretrievably lost.

All he need do is steer clear of taxing regional delicacies, mentioning rail fares and anything ending in “gate”, praising Ed Balls, announcing an imminent leadership challenge against David Cameron, commiserating with Paul Tucker, and declaring undying devotion for Brussels.

We wait with bated breath.

Now about Exeter Chiefs …

* * * * *

When I first heard a report that Mark Carney was to become the next Governor of the Bank of England, I misheard it as Martha Kearney, presenter of the BBC’s The World at One. I spent a puzzled hour wondering why.

Anyway, a lot of people seem to like the cut of his Canadian jib, and he certainly appears to be perfectly qualified for the post. As the current holder of Canada’s equivalent berth, plus 10 years experience in the City, including the ubiquitous Goldman Sachs, he out-sparkled a dowdy lineup of hopefuls.

The City of London is crying out for a New-World man — with the exception of Bob Diamond, of course — to breathe new dynamism into its ancient institutions. To say that the Square Mile has gone from “hero to zero” is to ignore the seriousness of the situation.

Wall Street is fighting tigerishly to regain top spot among financial centres, and while the City still has dominance in foreign exchange, including a new franchise for China’s currency, the renmimbi, it continues to take on the aspect of a ricketty house of cards.

The list of frauds allegedly prosecuted there would not be believed if they appeared in a Jeffery Archer thriller.

Let’s hope that Martha Mark Carney can steady the ship. London needs a Nelson not a Drake now. A game of bowls simply will not do.

* * * * *

Profundity of the Week
“Are you aware that you are time-travelling every moment of your life? What happens if you stop?” Unknown

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

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