Max Hastings

Never trust an editor

Prime ministers and journalists cannot be mates

Long before the phone-hacking scandal attained volcanic proportions, I scarcely knew a journalist in London unastonished to hear that last Christmas, the prime minister dined at the Oxfordshire home of Rebekah Brooks. Even were she Mother Teresa, which some evidence suggests she is not, it was plainly a lapse of judgment for David Cameron to be seen to accept Brooks’s hospitality, as he regularly did.

This was on four counts: 1) The immensely sensitive issue of BSkyB’s future ownership was on the government’s plate, and Brooks is a senior executive of News International. 2) The News of the World phone-hacking scandal was ongoing, and Brooks was a deeply involved party. 3) Brooks’s access to Cameron was bound to feed jealousies elsewhere in the media. 4) The theme of this article: it is doubtful that it is possible, never mind prudent, for a prime minister to indulge active friendship with any journalist, however sincere may be goodwill and affection on both sides.

A quarter of a century ago there was a row when Peregrine Worsthorne, then Sunday Telegraph editor, recycled in print some remarks the Prince of Wales had made to him at a private lunch. Bill Deedes observed sagely as he watched the plaster falling off the ceiling: ‘Journalists are, by their nature, unsuitable confidants for princes.’ The same applies for prime ministers. Of course they should have a regular private dialogue with editors and political scribes, invaluable to both sides. But they should never delude themselves that intimacy is desirable or indeed acceptable.

Were David Cameron to read this, he might be tempted to mutter something about pomposity. Since his elevation, he has behaved with unaltered informality to people he knew beforehand. I suspect he is mildly irritated that some elderly folk like me, having addressed him for years as David, now do so even privately as ‘prime minister’.

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