Clarke takes on liberal press - and dines on humble pie

On The Press

Charles Clarke certainly chose a good week to lecture fellow professionals on how they do their jobs. Dressing-downs in private and then in public must have seemed, to the journalists involved, a little rich coming from a man who would spend the rest of the week making grovelling apologies to anyone who offered him a microphone.

The week's news could be divided into market segments, as are the newspapers. In the up-market bracket was the Charles Clarke failure-to-deport saga; mid-market was Patricia Hewitt taking arrows from angry nurses; and then Prescott smut - down-market, red-top, probably cellophane-wrapped.

The overture was provided by Charles Clarke, who was so busy not locating foreign rapists that he called in members of the press. Imagine: Home Secretary sits in his office with journalists he has summoned - why were they all so available and agreeable to turning up? - and harangues them. Their sin? They were journalists from newspapers of liberal outlook who had questioned the civil liberties credentials of the Government.

Later that day Clarke moved his anger to the London School of Economics, where he delivered a speech about the "pernicious and dangerous poison slipping into some parts of the media view of the world". This view, he said, "rhetorically transferred" to democracies like Britain and the United States the characteristics of the "genuinely dangerous and evil totalitarian dictatorships" that have passed away. He named and shamed Simon Carr of The Independent, Henry Porter of The Observer and Jenni Russell of The Guardian. They had all written articles expressing concerns over government actions in the name of anti-terrorism and attacking crime and public disorder. These writers were worried about ID cards, collection of DNA and computer records, and the right to trial by jury.

Readers of those papers are the citizens most likely to be concerned about these matters, as in my view we should all be. How unsurprising that it is writers in such left-of-centre papers who are performing their proper journalistic role as watchdog of the Government. And how surprising that the Home Secretary in a Labour government, who in his earlier life as a student and Labour activist would have endorsed the articles he decried, should be attacking the papers representing views closest to Labour. The impression given is that he cares much less about the papers that have no problem with a reduction in civil liberties if it leads to greater protection of the public.

Clarke's achievement was to provoke Daily Telegraph support for liberal rivals. It said in a leader that the Home Secretary "pines after a polity where the executive does what it likes and the media does what it is told". There is something patronising as well as arrogant when Labour politicians start taking it out more on those who are basically for them. The tone, from a Government short on ideology, is one of weariness about naïve idealism on the liberal left and its failure to understand how hard it is to govern in the real world. They demand unquestioning support from those they expect to be their friends, yet, in Blair's case, will fly round the world to see Rupert Murdoch.

Then come the bad times - in this case 24 hours after Clarke was "entertaining" his journalist "guests". The triple whammy produces predictable descriptions from newspapers that are usually critical of the Government: shambles, meltdown, incompetence, woeful, shamed. Hardened Labour politicians would expect that, and would look for some relief to daily papers considered on their side, such as The Independent, Guardian and Mirror.

And they would have found the advice of critical friends - recognising difficulties but not going over the top about them. "The Government is not in meltdown," said The Independent. "While politically damaging, the nature of the Home Office crisis has been exaggerated in ways that risk fuelling xenophobia." The Guardian said: "There remains a sense of purpose and direction, a continued desire to rule."

Hardly the sort of language that so upsets Charles Clarke, whose own manner of describing journalists is so intemperate. Better really than he deserved after the failures of management he so readily and regularly confessed to. Timing? Bad. Killing the messenger? Never a good idea.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Extras
indybest
Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Finance Account Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Finance Account Manager with...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Display Account Manager

£25,000 to £35,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: The Company Our client are th...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Sales Director

£80 – 120K : Sphere Digital Recruitment: Sales Director – Ad tech - £80 – 120K...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum