The chilling effects of Lord Leveson are already being felt in every newsroom in the country — and it is the rich, powerful and influential who are reaping the benefits. I know this because after 17 years working in national newspapers, the last seven of which I spent on the Daily Mail, I have just walked away from a job I loved. The decision — one of the hardest of my life — was driven partly by a desire to spend more time with my young family.
British politicians have long dreamt of regulating the press, but have always been hampered by the basic point that the press isn’t theirs to regulate. Only now, with the industry on its knees, do the enemies of press freedom feel able to strike. Their hope is to appoint a press watchdog who would stand well back at first, but be able to tighten the screws if need be. The less scrupulous MPs believe that from that moment on, power will shift.
We live in the age of managed expectations — of projected outcomes and likely damage. It will be some days before the actual effects of the tropical storm absurdly named Sandy are computer-assessed, news-reported and blog- and Twitter-dissected. And debated too, one suspects. Already some wonder whether Sandy is this year’s ‘October surprise’, meaning, in crassest terms, a question of which of the presidential candidates will profit from it, perhaps even receive a ‘bounce’ in the insta-polls released between now and election day (next Tuesday).
1. You are in an airport and are walking from the main departure lounge to a rather distant gate. On the way there are several moving walkways. There is a small stone in your shoe, which is annoying enough that you decide that you must remove it. If you want to get to the gate as quickly as possible, and if there is no danger of your annoying other passengers, is it better to remove the stone while on a moving walkway or while on stationary ground, or does it make no difference?
I’m pessimistic about the ash trees. It seems unlikely that a fungus that killed 90 per cent of Denmark’s trees and spreads by air will not be devastating here, too. There is a glimmer of hope in the fact that ash, unlike elms, reproduce sexually so they are not clones — uniformly vulnerable to the pathogen. But it’s only a glimmer: tree parasites, from chestnut blight to pine beauty moth, have a habit of sweeping through species pretty rampantly, because trees are so long-lived they cannot evolve resistance in time.
A love for freedom of the press inspired Milton, Voltaire, Jefferson, Madison, Mill and Orwell. Ringing declarations of the right of citizens to read and write what they choose have run through constitutions and charters of liberties. Modern Britain being the way it is, however, the lofty rhetoric of the past has sunk to debates about celebs and breasts. Specifically, the breasts on page three of The Sun, and the tits who publish them.
Last December I received a telephone call concerning Jimmy Savile’s apparent sexual abuse of underage girls in the 1970s. The details I heard were pretty chilling, but the negative reaction when I tried (unsuccessfully) to report the claims in the national press was equally troubling. There is every indication that the Leveson inquiry into press standards was to blame.
My source said that a Newsnight investigation into Savile’s activities had been shelved by the BBC in mysterious circumstances and encouraged me to find out more.
Five years after the run on Northern Rock, four years after the epoch-making crash of Lehman Brothers, the clouds over Britain’s banking sector remain as dark as ever. We may have been the first country to recapitalise our banks when the crisis struck, but as the years have unfurled the sheer scale of the legacy of the ‘nice decade’ (1997-2007, ‘nice’ being the Bank of England governor Sir Mervyn King’s acronym for non-inflationary consistent expansion) has been revealed, and regulators have begun to wonder out loud whether further injections of capital may be needed before the repair job is completed.
A decade ago I wrote here about the way financial advisers are paid. I told you how, instead of giving you a bill, your adviser is allowed to sell you investment products in exchange for a commission from the product provider plus a cut of your assets every year for as long as you continue to hold those products. So if you buy an investment fund from an independent financial adviser (IFA), he will receive a payment up front and then another payment every year, whether you ever have the good fortune to come across him again or not.
Next week’s too-close-to-call US presidential election must make a big difference to the way stock and bond markets perform over the next few years — or so you might think. Yet experience suggests that investors should probably stifle a yawn rather than place too much significance on whether Obama or Romney comes out ahead. In practice, markets rarely assign as much importance to the outcome as politicians and their supporters think they should.
I’m often asked why I keep banging on about the press. Am I a lefty? I’m not. I’m not a righty either. I drift. (And in terms of impartiality, by the way, the same goes for Hacked Off – as a campaign group we are determinedly hermaphrodite.)
Am I a muzzler? I really don’t think so. I recoil from the dead hand of the state. I grind my teeth when they swipe my passport at UK immigration.
Do I want to be a moral arbiter? Hardly.
What is a real woman? My difficult client, the Australian gigastar Dame Edna Everage, is seriously miffed at BBC’s cancellation of her forthcoming appearance on Have I Got News For You. She flew from Australia especially to record this show, installing herself, as usual, in the Oliver Messel suite at the Dorchester Hotel at her own expense, but the producer changed his mind yesterday and politely gave her the shove, claiming that the show only featured ‘real people’.