Martin Bell was interviewed by the BBC - his erstwhile employers - this morning. You can hear the piece here. I was worried by the broadcast. It sounded more like a chat between old pals (which it may have been) than a rigorous cross-examination (which it should also have been).
This is further evidence of an unhealthy trend. The media increasingly make judgements about the psychology of individual politicians and will not deviate from that judgement, no matter what evidence is presented to them. And this assessment of a politician's inherent decency has become more important than the content of their argument.
Thus Dan Hannan is dismissed as an "arrogant right-winger in love with the sound of his own voice" by Adam Boulton, for which Tim Montgomerie rightly upbraided the usually excellent Sky correspondent. Adam Boulton might know Dan Hannan better than I do, but it's not the conclusion I would draw. Dan has always been supremely courteous and good-humoured in my experience.
Meanwhile journalists are conniving in letting the Left misrepresent Dan's position. He outlines it straightforwardly here, in an article that proves that some of Labour's accusations are untrue and makes a good case on the policy stuff, which is up for debate. It seems to me that in order to assert that someone is venal as opposed to misguided, you ought to have overwhelming evidence.
Labour and the Left have form here. Liam Fox refused to accept that the NHS was flawless when he was Shadow Health Secretary. It was beyond obscene for people to accuse someone who worked as a doctor of not caring about patient welfare. Maybe they too had endured people dying in their arms, but maybe they should have put such revolting politicking to one side and focussed on sensible policy debate. And maybe the press should have called them on it.
So Dan and Liam are baddies, and that's just the way it is. Martin Bell, however, is a delightful, avuncular cove like Vincent Cable, and it would be inelegant to ask him any searching questions, right?
Wrong. An MP is an MP is an MP. If you want to become one, then the media should (up to a point) look into your affairs. Journalists should ask you detailed questions about what policies you will be seeking to implement. If you give a vague answer, they should follow up on it.
I don't for a moment think that independents have no business standing for Parliament. Nor do I think that none of them could do an outstanding job. But I'll make my own mind up as to whether I like the cut of their jib. That will be much easier if they are asked detailed questions than if the media treats some candidates as saints and declines to challenge those who assert that they know for a fact that other politicians have ice in their hearts.
Perhaps this is a rare example of where Jeremy Paxman's absurd but uniform rudeness has something to recommend it.