Jeremy Corbyn says he likes my journalism – so why does he want to muzzle the press?

Any local reporter would be pleased to hear a leading politician stand up for public interest journalism. Jeremy Corbyn did just that in his speech on media reform yesterday. But let’s not forget that Labour – and Corbyn himself – are adamant supporters of Leveson 2. Make no mistake: this is a dangerous attempt to muzzle local newspapers and expose reporters like me to crippling and needless law-suits. The most worrying aspect of Leveson 2 is Section 40, which would force papers to pay legal costs for people suing them regardless of whether they won their case. This would make the work of journalists much more difficult. After all, many of

The press regulation lobby represent the few, not the many

Those pushing for press regulation claim to have the people on their side, and since the phone-hacking scandal, Hacked Off has posed as warriors for the victims of press intrusion, standing up to the big media barons. Today, MPs vote on amendments to the Data Protection Bill that would effectively force publications into state-backed regulation for the first time in 300 years. The amendments, tabled by Labour’s Tom Watson and Ed Miliband, would also kickstart the second part of the Leveson inquiry. Watson claims this is ‘for the many, not the few’. But if that’s really the case, why are these plans being sneaked into obscure amendments to a dry-sounding piece

Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘change is coming’ warning to the press is chilling

What a convenient inconvenience the row about Jeremy Corbyn’s links with a Czechoslovakian agent is for the Labour leader. While the allegations that he was an informant during the Cold War may well be the ‘nonsense’ that he claims they are (they certainly don’t seem to correlate with anything released at the end of that period), the way a number of newspapers have covered them has given him an opportunity to launch an attack on the press. In what tabloids might term a ‘bizarre video rant’, Corbyn said the newspapers had ‘gone a bit James Bond’ with these ‘smears’, before warning the ‘media barons’ that ‘change is coming’. Some of

A vote for the Tories is now a vote for a free press

I have long campaigned against the activation of section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, as well as a second Leveson inquiry which would have examined the culture, practices and ethics of the press, so I was delighted that the Conservative manifesto says that neither will happen. The Government held a consultation about this earlier this year and the wording in the manifesto is the first official response to that consultation. I hope that this now puts the matter to bed.  If section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act was activated it would have meant that any publication not a member of Impress, the press regulator largely funded

The real BBC shocker: occasionally it isn’t biased

There’s one thing that bothers me a lot about the letter sent by ‘more than 70’ MPs to the director-general of the BBC complaining about bias in its coverage of the Brexit debate. There are 650 MPs in the House of Commons, of whom 330 are Conservative. So does this mean that more than 570 of our elected representatives, including the vast majority of Tories, think the BBC is doing a bloody good job and is an exemplar of impartial reporting? If so, I suspect they have been secretly lobotomised — perhaps by members of the BBC’s impeccably fair and impartial editorial board. In the dead of night. Silently, without

Diary – 2 March 2017

A fortnight ago I got a taste of what being far too famous might feel like. A leak that I’m a contender for the Mary Berry slot on The Great British Bake Off morphed into the fake news that I’d got the job. For 24 hours it was a lead story — then it was yesterday’s non-news. My daughter, Li-Da Kruger, has made me her plus-one on the maiden voyage of Viking Sky, the swankiest cruise ship imaginable, all spacious showers, leather handrails and the surreal experience of sitting in the hairdresser’s with a roiling sea of black water and white-topped waves rushing past. Li-Da was booked to show her


I have long pondered the motive with which Michael Wharton, for long the author of the Daily Telegraph’s Peter Simple column, gave a memorable detail in his second volume of memories, A Dubious Codicil, about the habits of his rival Colin Welch: ‘He had a habit of picking his nose, occasionally tasting the extracted mucus or “bogey”, without any attempt to conceal himself, as most people would, behind a newspaper.’ Since they are both dead, I am unlikely to find out. But I have been piqued recently by another kind of pick, mostly relating to Donald Trump, and now spilling over into British affairs. The choice for one of his cabinet

From Tacitus to Justin Welby

Many are still questioning the enthusiasm with which newspapers have implicated Archbishop Justin Welby, as a young man, in the abusive activities of a Christian camp leader for whom he was working. This line from the Daily Telegraph is typical: ‘Archbishop Welby is said to have gained much of his early grounding in Christian doctrine from the Iwerne holiday camps, where boys were recruited for John Smyth’s sadomasochistic cult.’ The Roman historian Tacitus (d. c. AD 117) was a master of this sort of insinuation, in which ‘is said’ (as used above) exculpates the writer from responsibility for the statement, and the relative clause ‘where…’ associates the young Welby with a cult

Bad publicity

Whatever calamitous infelicities David Beckham did or did not email to his publicist, few will doubt that he has lived to rue the day. Nevertheless, I’ll bet teeth that he is pointing his ruing in the wrong direction: that he is tormented by the moment he pressed ‘send’ — but not similarly kicking himself for hiring a publicist in the first place. It will be left to thee and me to wonder what was the point. When you are already richer than God, you are one of the sporting legends of your generation and your face would be recognised by a yeti in the wastes of Siberia — why might

What the papers say: Britain’s soaring EU budget bill shows Brexit can’t happen soon enough

We’ve heard that Brexit could cost Britain billions in the form of a divorce bill from Brussels. But what is the price of staying in? That question is answered by the Daily Mail this morning which reveals Treasury estimates slipped out last week that the UK’s contribution to the EU will jump to £10.2bn in 2019 – up from £7.9bn this year. The numbers also show that if Britain is still in the EU by 2021-22, taxpayers will have to pay out £10.9bn to Brussels. For the Daily Mail this is proof that Brexit is the best course of action. ‘Doesn’t this revelation, slipped out by the Treasury, show precisely

High life | 9 February 2017

When I was young my recurring nightmare was that I would die and be reincarnated as a polo pony. I squeezed in lots of polo during the years I played, at least three matches per week, mostly in Paris, and I felt that polo ponies had the kind of deal the mass media are now handing Trump. I wasn’t mad about the people I played with either. Back then, in the Sixties and Seventies, fat businessmen who cantered hired good Argentines to carry the can, but picked up the cup after strolling around the field and yelling quite a lot. Well, now I’m over it, but have an even worse

‘Above all else, fun’

Alexander Chancellor’s ‘Long Life’ is over; but it was not nearly long enough. I was feeling rather gloomy last Friday, having just had our old terrier put down, when I opened The Spectator and was immediately cheered up by the first paragraph of Alexander’s column. It was so typical of the way that he often looked at the world, and of his delightfully quirky sense of humour, that he should relate a children’s song to the new President of the United States. Recalling Nellie the elephant and her trumpety-trump, he wrote: ‘I’m hoping against hope that Donald Trumpety-Trump will also say goodbye to the circus in Washington and return to

The ghastly truth

Paul Johnson once wrote that the ability to say ‘really’ in 12 different ways was the birthright of every true Englishman, or woman. Really rather awkward. Really dreadful. Really good effort. Really went to town. I know him really well. Did she really mean that? I mean, really! One word, many meanings. ‘Ghastly’ is another thoroughly English word, in tone and application. Its meaning is implicit, rather than explicit. It’s a word shared by people of similar (that is to say, well-brought-up) backgrounds, which makes it all the more surprising that Tatler magazine, which likes to present itself as a guide for metropolitan smarties, has declared ghastly to be ‘unfashionable’.

There’s one day left to help defend press freedom

Think of the scandals of the last two decades; think of who exposed them. That’s why we need to protect press freedom and why, if you haven’t already done so, you should email to register your objection to the notorious Section 40 of the Crime & Courts Act. The consultation ends at 5pm tomorrow. If activated, it would mean that publications who refuse to bend the knee to a state-sponsored regulator would pay the legal costs of anyone who sues them – right or wrong. When Tim Yeo was exposed by the Sunday Times, he sued – even though every word of their exposé was correct. The newspaper fought him

Competition: write a response to the government’s ‘consultation’ on press freedom

Since my blog about the new threat to press freedom yesterday, and the notorious Section 40 being consulted on by the government, responses have been coming in thick and fast. A few of you have copied me in to emails sent to Karen Bradley, the Culture Secretary, many of them rather brilliant. More importantly, I’ve been contacted by a software designer who has agreed to make a form that we can use to send a template response to the government’s consultation. This leaves us with one question: what form of words? One form has been created, here. But all you really need to do is mention Section 40 and a new

The new battle for press freedom

The fight for press freedom is back on – and it needs your help. The government is consulting on a draconian new law, the so-called Section 40, that could mean publications like The Spectator, who refuse to submit to Max Mosley’s regulator, would have to pay the legal costs of anyone who wants to sue us, win or lose. We would be made a sitting duck for anyone who felt inclined to complain about anything. Take, for example, Camila Batmanghelidjh. She sent me a lawyers’ letter when Miles Goslett exposed the Kids Company scandal, and The Spectator became the only publication willing to call her out. It went no further as she had was a

What the papers say: Labour’s ‘thunderous hypocrisy’ on press regulation

Press regulation – something of a political hot potato – is top of the agenda once again after Culture Secretary Karen Bradley announced the government was considering ditching plans for a follow-up Leveson inquiry. It’s no surprise that this morning’s newspapers have (almost all) welcomed the news. The Sun says David Cameron left behind a press regulation ‘dog’s dinner’ for Theresa May. But the paper praises the efforts of the government to try and clear it up. It says Bradley’s announcement of a consultation on Leveson 2 is an ideal opportunity for the media to make its voice heard and put forward the case against state interference. The Sun also uses the opportunity to

The Spectator’s Notes | 11 August 2016

Those who want to revive grammar schools are accused of ‘bring backery’ — the unthinking idea that the past was better. But many of their accusers suffer from the rigid mindset of which they complain. They say that grammar schools ‘condemned most children to failure at the age of 11’, and that, even at their peak, grammars catered for less than 20 per cent of the school population. Why assume that the return of grammars must re-create either of these things? Grammar schools grew up, historically, in different ways and at different times. Then, in the mid‑20th-century mania for uniformity, they were standardised and, in the later 20th-century mania for comprehensives, almost

Thank God for Sir Philip Green, the perfect modern hate figure

Good old Sir Philip Green. Where would we be without him? So often, those national hate figures let you down. That lady who put a cat in a bin in 2010, for example. Bit of a tragic loony, in the end. Likewise Tony Blair. Not this one. His diamond has no flaw, and we can all join in. He’s perfectly awful in every way. He looks the part, too. Rich-guy hair, of the sort most rich guys don’t deign to have any more. Nonexistent at the front, lacquered and far too long at the back. Brilliant. Clothes that don’t quite fit, because he clearly pays a stylist to tell him

Bear baiting

Oh those Russians. When they’re not beating up English football fans, they’re cheating at the Olympics. They occupy other countries and shoot down civilian airliners, then pretend it wasn’t them. They’re helping Assad win the Syrian civil war. They’re even driving up London house prices. There’s no infamy, apparently, of which Russians are not guilty. ‘OK — we did do all those things,’ admits a Moscow broadcaster friend, a little sheepishly. ‘But everyone else does them too! We’re the only ones to get punished, because everyone hates us.’ Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russians have become the world’s official pariahs. Russian athletes have been kicked out of the