SINCE ITS inception in 1990, the Press Complaints Commission cannot be accused of covering itself in glory. The perception that it's little more than an industry-funded fig leaf was endorsed by the knowledge that Guy Black, who ran the shop when Lord Wakeham was chairman, regularly shared holidays with Sun editor Rebekah Wade, and Wakeham's resignation over the Enron scandal (he was a director) didn't help. Nor did The People paying £250,000 compensation to Sarah Cox for publishing pictures of her naked on honeymoon, in flagrant breach of the code of practice its editor Neil Wallis, so astonishingly a commission member, had been involved in drawing up.
So the PCC's response to the News of the World's bugging of royal phones would seem a defining test of its resolve. It's a huge relief that the current chairman Christopher Meyer "deplores" Clive Goodman's crime (I'd made him 4-7 on to throw a drinks party to celebrate it), but the only salient question is what he plans to do to establish what the NoW's then editor Andy Coulson knew about it. Despite Mr Coulson's resignation when Mr Goodman was sent down, a suspicion persists that this was a tactical manoeuvre to suppress demands for further investigations.
If Mr Coulson had lived in blissful ignorance of these activities, hats off for the first honourable resignation since Lord Carrington. But there must be a chance, however infinitesimal, that he had a vague clue why £112,000 was paid to Mr Goodman's accomplice Glenn Mulcaire out of his editorial budget. So far as we know, Sir Christopher has not discussed the matter with Mr Coulson, who is rumoured to be lined up to replace Ms Wade on The Sun. Still, it's early days, and perhaps he'll surprise us yet. Let's hope so, because if not the PCC will establish beyond doubt that it is as serious and effective a regulatory body as its near namesake the Police Complaints Commission. And that really can't be good.
IN MR COULSON'S defence, a compelling precedent for a beguilingly laissez-faire approach to fiscal matters was set by the minister ultimately responsible for newspapers, when Tessa Jowell revealed that she had known nothing whatever of her own lively mortgage history. Concerns that the job is becoming too much for her were raised last week by photos of Tessa dozing on the front bench. Although there is no official explanation for her fatigue, it is believed that she went straight to the Commons from an all-night session at the Victoria casino near Marble Arch, where she had a long winning streak at roulette on 18 red (you will recall, from an even more memorable photo, that this is her favourite number).
Sources at the Culture, Media and Sport Department insist this embarrassment will not be repeated, and that whenever she finds herself exhausted in the future, she will be replaced in the chamber by the inflatable doll that has so ably deputised for her at cabinet meetings for the last four years.
WE ALL know what Tessa thinks about gambling, but the Daily Mirror's attitude is less clear. The editorial line is that actively inciting people to get hooked isn't a great idea. Meanwhile, its betting expert Derek McGovern, whose genuinely brilliant daily column is brought to us in association with Betfair, told us on Friday about how a punter won £88,000 on a slot machine on Betfair's online casino in two days. Most confusing.
I AM distressed beyond measure by news of an old boss. Jonathan Holborow, erstwhile editor of The Mail on Sunday, has been banned for 16 months and fined £1,700 for drink driving.
Mr Holborow, whose penchant for holding his white cotton handkerchief Oswald (named after Sir Oswald Mosley) to his face at times of stress endeared him to staff, was particularly unlucky. On leaving a dinner at the club of Folkestone Conservatives, of which he is chairman, he managed a distance of almost five feet in reverse before colliding with another car. He was promptly nicked, and found to be almost twice over the limit.
Until this misfortune, he was last heard of running a haberdashers in nearby Tenterden. No one has ever established why he invested part of his £1m MoS pay-off in such a venture. I've always assumed that he was worried about Oswald, who always seemed prone to loneliness, and wanted to provide him with some cotton playmates. But that's pure speculation.
REASSURANCE FOR those petrified by the IPCC report on climate change published 10 days ago, at least so far as the threat from rising sea levels due to melting ice-caps. Regardless of what the world's finest scientific minds may think, there is nothing to fear. We know this because Tom Utley has explained in the Daily Mail that, when the ice in his gin and tonic melts, it doesn't make the liquid spill out over the top of the glass. So please don't give it another thought.
WITH HIS rigorous commitment to sticking to the facts, perhaps Tom should be put to work overseeing the Mail's handling of statistics. "A third of all GPs have private health", reported the newspaper's front-page headline on Thursday. Beneath this, the report informed us: "Of the 600 family doctors questioned, 28 per cent have actually taken out private medical insurance". Is 28 per cent a third, or is it in fact closer to a quarter? It's a pedantic point, I know, but with the Mail so concerned about poor numeracy levels in schools, someone has to set an example.