Stephen Glover on The Press

Why I can't tell you all about Mr Blair's 'secret' summer holiday
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The Independent Online

Discerning readers will have noticed an oddity. The Mail did not say where Mr Blair was. The Sun only located him in 'the Caribbean Sea,' which is pretty extensive. On the one hand the papers were happy to run paparazzi pictures, yet on the other hand they were strangely bashful as to his whereabouts.

The explanation is that several weeks ago David Hill, the Prime Minister's chief spin doctor, wrote to editors of news organizations requesting that for security reasons details of Mr Blair's holiday arrangements should not be published until his return. The media have duly obliged. The Mail and the Sun could not resist carrying the pictures, but they observed Mr Hill's injunction, though the Sun may have come dangerously close to letting the cat out of the bag with its mention of 'the Caribbean Sea'.

Many people may think it perfectly reasonable that the location should be kept secret for security reasons. I don't. Surely Mr Blair would not be subject to any increased dangers from terrorist attack were his holiday details widely known. Those of his fellow citizens left behind in London are probably facing greater risks. Why, one may reasonably ask, should the holidaying Mr Blair consider himself in a category of his own, particularly since his ill-conceived policies in Iraq have increased the likelihood of terrorist attacks in Britain? Why should he be allowed to exempt himself from the consequences of his own actions?

Mr Blair, and those advising him, take his security enormously seriously. To the very great inconvenience of other drivers, Parliament Square is now regularly closed so that he can be driven in perfect safety in his armoured Jaguar for the few hundred yards from Downing Street to the House of Commons. (Even after Number Ten had been bombed by the IRA, John Major never resorted to these extreme steps). We would all accept, I think, that the Prime Minister of Great Britain deserves proper protection. Closing Parliament Square, and treating Mr Blair's holiday destination as a state secret, are excessive measures. The precaution of secrecy in respect of his holiday is in any case absurd, since if paparazzi can track him down, presumably Al Qa'ida also could if it wanted to.

There is an important further consideration. We all know that Mr Blair has a gargantuan appetite for freebies. When every summer comes around, and most winters, the Prime Minister's holiday arrangements provide occasion for much sucking in of teeth and shaking of heads among certain commentators. Such criticisms seem to me well-made. Mr Blair's passion for free - or at any rate subsidised - holidays is not very admirable. In this instance, as a result of Mr Hill's letter we do not know (or cannot say) whether Mr Blair is breaking the habit of a lifetime and paying his own way, or whether he is simply behaving as he normally does. Legitimate criticism is not possible.

The media could have ignored Mr Hill's request. The Sun has very nearly done so. Hasn't the rest of the press been rather too docile? At the very least there should have been a debate about the rights and wrongs of not revealing the Prime Minister's whereabouts.

I hope that when he does eventually return to our shores, newspapers will examine exactly what he got up to, and who paid for it. Whose yacht was that? The Mail and the Sun will probably show an interest, but I would not be so sure about the rest of Her Majesty's Press. Mr Hill may have silenced debate about a troubling aspect of the Prime Minister's character.

You may be wondering, dear reader, whether I am about to reveal where Mr Blair is. Since I do not believe he faces any risks, I would be perfectly happy to do so, but I would be less happy if obloquy descended on the editor of this newspaper as a consequence, as I imagine he might be. So if you do not already know his whereabouts, I fear you will have to work it out for yourself, or wait until he comes back, when I shall happily return to the subject.

Cash-cart before the horse

Journalists working for the Guardian have had to accept over the years that they are paid less generously than their counterparts on many other national newspapers. By way of compensation, they have been secure in the knowledge that they are on the side of virtue, and that their paper, which is controlled by the Scott Trust, is not motivated by anything as grubby as a need to make money.

However, some of them may raise an eyebrow when they learn about the salary and extra emoluments paid to the Guardian's editor, Alan Rusbridger, in the year to the end of April. Mr Rusbridger trousered a £150,000 bonus in recognition of his part in his paper's transformation to a Le Monde-type format, which is expected to take place at the end of September. Mr Rusbridger earned £373,000 as editor of the Guardian and a director of the Scott Trust, while £173,000 was popped into his pension pot.

The curiosity is that during the year ending in April the Guardian mislaid a significant slice of its circulation. It is more curious still that Mr Rusbridger should have been rewarded for a transformation that has not yet taken place, and may, or may not, be a success.

Coincidentally, journalists at the Irish Times are complaining that their editor, Geraldine Kennedy, is paid some £220,000 a year, which they think too much. The Dublin-based Sunday Independent claims that Ms Kennedy is paid 'more than the editor of the Daily Telegraph'. Can this really be true? She is evidently paid considerably less than Mr Rusbridger.

The Guardian is investing £100m in its relaunch, as well as that of its sister paper, the Observer. Mr Rusbridger is unquestionably the moving force behind this revolution. If it succeeds in reversing the Guardian's circulation decline, he will deserve a very big bonus indeed. To reward him before the event is, to say the least, uncommercial to the point of loopiness.