Conservative Diary

Culture, Media, Sport

28 Nov 2012 07:01:00

Boris points in all directions at once

By Tim Montgomerie
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Pointing Boris 4

Boris has been in India but he's also been displaying some topsy turvy positioning.

The last three days have not been Boris Johnson's finest. First came his flip flop on an In/Out referendum. Earlier this year - ahead of his re-election bid - he signed the People's Pledge and its call for a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU. On Sunday he appeared to back-track. I've sought clarification from team Boris but received none.

On Monday he questioned Theresa May's immigration policies even though her clampdown on student numbers is essential to meeting the Tory manifesto commitment to bring net immigration to under 100,000. Few of the government's policies are more popular or more essential to ensure working class Britons are protected from low-skilled immigration. There is certainly a case for Britain's immigration procedures to be less bureaucratic but it is also a fact that last year's Home Office quota for higher skilled immigrants was not filled. Don't therefore believe stories about top firms being denied the talented people they need.

Yesterday Boris Johnson made his third wrong turn. For the last few days the arts establishment has been up in arms about government cuts. Rather than standing with the Government Boris has sided with the luvvies. In London's Evening Standard he warned about the danger off "choking off" creative and cultural London. "One of the key reasons that people come to London is for its arts and culture," he said, continuing: "Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”

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26 Nov 2012 08:15:56

If anyone believes that it can be business as usual in Fleet Street, there's shurely shome mishtake

By Paul Goodman
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Leveson screenshot

Four MPs went to prison after the expenses scandal.  Voters would not have put up for a moment with self-regulation continuing for the rest.  Journalists will surely go to jail, too, in the wake of Hackgate.  But some seem to believe that Fleet Street can eventually return to business as usual.  As one its greatest-ever operators used to say: shurely shome mishtake.

Now I'm not claiming that the Commons and newspapers, or that MPs and journalists, are horses of the same colour - having first been one and now being the other, I appreciate that they're not.  MPs are public servants and responsible to their constituents.  Furthermore, they are, increasingly, financed by them, and by the taxpayer more broadly.  Newspapers are private businesses, accountable not to voters - or even their readers - but to their owners and shareholders.  Furthermore, MPs are charged with running the country, while even the mightiest Editor is not (though there are always some who believe otherwise, at least from time to time).

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25 Nov 2012 08:53:13

Cameron will not agree to statutory regulation of the press when Leveson reports next week

By Matthew Barrett
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Cameron Serious 1009The Leveson Inquiry reports next week, and the Prime Minister's response has, understandably, been of keen interest to those in Westminster and on Fleet Street. This morning's newspapers will please those in Fleet Street: the Prime Minister is apparently of a mind to reject the prospect of statutory regulation of the press, which Lord Justice Leveson is widely expected to recommend.

The Prime Minister will instead favour some level of tighter regulation to make the press more responsible. The leading proposal that protects the independence of the press while enforcing higher standards is that of Lord Hunt, the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, and Lord Black, of the Telegraph Media Group. Their proposal, which has been found acceptable by all newspapers, would establish an independent regulator able to administer heavy fines.

The Independent on Sunday suggests another proposal for compromise would be the introduction of statutory regulation but with a "sunset clause" in the Bill that Parliament would consider, meaning that the legislation would have to be renewed by fresh parliamentary consent and would expire if deemed to be a failure. If this proposal were to be explored, the timing of the "sunset" period would be of particular interest to anti-statutory-regulators, since not all parties are as committed to press freedom, and whoever wins a majority at the next election could decide the permanent fate of any such Bill.

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15 Nov 2012 14:47:39

The wisdom of Alistair McAlpine - a man who, in two senses, lives well

By Paul Goodman
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Margaret Thatcher's wronged former party Treasurer went on the World at One today. His interviewer, Becky Milligan, quoted Boris's Daily Telegraph article of earlier this week, which said that to call someone a paedophile is to "consign them to the lowest circle of hell - and while they're still alive".

This is right.  And as Lord McAlpine pointed out in response, the damage done by Newsnight will never be fully corrected.  "No it can't be repaired," he answered. "It can be repaired to a point. But there is a British proverb which is insidious and awful where people say "there's no smoke without a fire", you know, "he appears to be innocent, but..."

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11 Nov 2012 12:13:28

The BBC is simply too big to be properly governed. It's time it was broken up.

By Tim Montgomerie
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The last few weeks have been terrible for the BBC. First was the Jimmy Savile controversy and then, in the last week, the false accusations made against former Tory Treasurer, Lord McAlpine. It is breathtaking that such serious allegations were entertained without (1) ever giving the subject of those accusations a right of reply or (2) without undertaking basic fact checks, notably showing a photograph of the accused to the accuser. As Toby Young and Damian Thompson have both asked, did the idea of ensnaring a 'top Tory' mean political bloodlust among BBC journalists got the better of journalistic standards? Was the opportunity to turn a chase of Newsnight into a chase of the party of Margaret Thatcher something so tempting that it couldn't be resisted? Lord Tebbit certainly thinks so:

"In a savage paroxysm of shame and rage [the BBC was] in too much haste to check any of the allegations against [Lord McAlpine]. Their professionalism was overwhelmed. They may have failed to report on what was going on just outside their office doors, but they were for sure not going to miss this story of Tory wickedness."

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11 Nov 2012 07:49:01

Cameron's Leveson problem is Farage's media opportunity

By Paul Goodman
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Farage Nigel May 2012More than the 40 or so Conservative MPs who signed it will agree with the Guardian letter supporting statutory press regulation.  And since over 40 Tories plus Labour and the Liberal Democrats equals a Commons majority, it might seem to follow that statutory regulation will now definitely happen.  But there is many a slip between cup and lip.  Although the Leveson inquiry will almost certainly propose some form of it, David Cameron may well respond with a fudge - which is why the form of words he used when giving evidence to it, "independent regulation with statutory backing", is ambiguous and ambivalent.

For example, the Prime Minister could propose a Press Complaints Commission replacement with more independent members and new powers to force newspapers to publish corrections and apologies.  My point is not that this would be the right solution - though there is a lot to be said for it - but that it might appease some of the Guardian letter signatories.  However, it is clear that Mr Cameron will be under eye-watering political pressure to introduce statutory regulation.  Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are already in talks about press regulation, for all the world as if they - and not Mr Cameron and the Liberal Democrat leader- were leading a Coalition Government.

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20 Oct 2012 08:24:31

The end of Mitchell spells the end for Leveson

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2012-10-20 at 05.26.19Strictly speaking, it was not the lobby and the media that forced Andrew Mitchell's resignation yesterday.  It was the unprecedented meeting of Wednesday's 1922 Committee, which found itself discussing whether or not he should continue as Chief Whip: the very fact that such a conversation took place at all made his position impossible.  But that meeting's event only took place because the Police Federation had kept the Mitchell story going for the best part of a month.  And the story had been kept going for that period because the lobby and the media made it happen.

They made it happen not only because the Chief Whip was unpopular with some lobby journalists, but because the media (and in particular the Sun, which broke the story) wanted to come out on top.  This is not evidence of anti-Tory bias: it was no less aggressive in the case of Mr Mitchell or of Liam Fox than in the cases of, say, Peter Mandelson or Stephen Byers when New Labour ruled the roost.  Neither is its aggression necessarily a bad thing: on balance, it is better to have a puffed-up media than a cowed one.

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14 Oct 2012 18:31:25

Should Maria Miller order a judge-led inquiry into the BBC?

By Tim Montgomerie
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MILLER-MARIAIn his column for Saturday's Daily Mail Simon Heffer argued that the new Culture Secretary Maria Miller should order a judge-led inquiry into the BBC's handling of the Jimmy Savile affair. The investigation, he argued, should "find out how such behaviour could be allowed and who were responsible for letting it happen". He continued: "If that means ruining some more glittering posthumous reputations, so be it."

Mr Heffer doesn't stop there, however. He thinks the Corporation is on the floor and that there's an opportunity to kick it while it's vulnerable. He recommends three other lines of inquiry:

"[Mrs Miller] should address criticism that there is a liberal bias — ‘underplaying’ the dangers of mass immigration, its ‘pro-EU’ approach and the way it deals with religion... The Culture Secretary’s third duty is to review what the BBC does. It has a vital role providing services the market sector could not otherwise sustain and without which the quality of our civilisation and democracy would be harmed — news, current affairs, documentaries, and the serious output of Radio 4 and Radio 3. Its role in developing further the cult of the celebrity by churning out a regular stream of trashy and mindless programmes must be questioned."

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20 Sep 2012 12:26:45

The seven government departments David Cameron should scrap at the next reshuffle

By Matthew Barrett
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At the last reshuffle, David Cameron did something quite unusual: he didn't change the name or purpose of any of his government's departments. During the Blair and Brown years, changes like these were rather common. People may remember the poor Department for Constitutional Affairs, or the old Department of Trade and Industry, or its successor, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which lasted for only two years.

At Mr Cameron's next reshuffle, he could consider changing tactic, and start reducing the number of government departments by merging those which have similar purposes. There are obvious spending benefits to be considered - by keeping some staff from one department, but not retaining those whose function is already performed at the newly merged department - and there are also good reasons for Parliament to want to reduce the number of departments. Many backbenchers complain about the over-mighty executive, and the ability it has to undermine backbenchers by appointing minor payroll jobs like Parliamentary Private Secretaries, as well as the obviously necessary Secretaries and Ministers of State. Reducing the number of these jobs would hand more power to Parliament. 

At the very least, there are some anomalous ministerial postings which could easily be dealt with. Why should the Minister with responsibility for Universities, for example, work at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and not Education?

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21 Aug 2012 08:00:20

The Left's real target isn't Gove's playing field decisions. It's his education reforms - and it's time we all got wise to their game.

By Paul Goodman
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Michael Gove is under attack again this morning over school playing fields.  The Guardian has a story headed "Michael Gove 'made council let free school be built on playing field' ".  (He didn't: Departmental officials spoke to the local authority in question.)  And the Daily Telegraph reports that the petition being run by 38 degrees, the left-of-centre website, may soon pass 100,000 signatories. The petition claims that:

“The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has quietly relaxed the rules protecting school playing fields, opening the door for them to be sold off to developers. Without their playing fields it’s hard to imagine the children of today will ever match this year’s record Olympic medal haul. And once playing fields are sold off and built on, they're gone forever.”

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