James Forsyth

Jacqui Smith: why didn’t we think it was a bigger story?

Jacqui Smith: why didn’t we think it was a bigger story?
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When I read the scoop about Jacqui Smith’s housing arrangements in The Mail on Sunday my first reaction wasn’t shock or outrage, but a general feeling of there’s another one. Several other stories struck me—and other Coffee House contributors—as more interesting. As the day went on without any comment on it from us, commenters started asking why we hadn’t blogged on it. That afternoon, I added this PS to a post on the News of the World’s scoop about unemployment being expected to hit 3.5 million:

“Some Coffee Housers have asked why we haven’t blogged on Jacqui Smith's housing arrangements. Frankly, I don’t have much to say except that it seems like another case of an arrangement that is within the letter but not the spirit of the regulations and is corrosive of the public’s trust in politicians. Also when you consider the costs of the police protecting her sister’s house, one sees why grace and favour flats actually make sense.”

The Smith story hasn’t really taken off, no one expects her to be forced out over it and the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner isn’t even going to investigate it. But it’s shocking that we take such a relaxed attitude to it. It is proof of how the lowering of standard of behaviour in Westminster has lowered our expectations of how politicians should behave. As one journalistic friend of mine said to me last night, we hacks read and hear so many of these stories that we become almost immune to them.

In hindsight, we should have been more outraged about it, if only out of principle: we should have beaten—whatever good it would have done—the drum on it. In short, the commenters were right and I was wrong.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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