Stephen Glover On The Press

I see the spectre of state control

think I can explain why Charles Clarke allowed several hundred foreign ex-prisoners to slip into the unknown. The Home Secretary spends too much time reading newspapers, and working himself into a frenzy of resentment. He then lets off steam by writing long, angry letters to editors.

About a month ago he sent one such bombastic missive to this paper in response to an article by Matthew Norman. Mr Clarke disputed Mr Norman's account of an acrimonious exchange which had taken place in Norwich Cathedral with a cleric, whose daughter had survived last July's London bombings. The details need not detain us now. What caught my eye - apart from Mr Clarke's splutterings - was his pay-off. "It is a comment on the current state of relations between the politicians and the media," he wrote, "that you published such an odious and deceptive opinion piece by a journalist about a politician, without pausing to check the basic 'facts', whereas I doubt that you would publish such a gratuitously offensive piece by a politician about a journalist."

When one had made due allowance for Mr Clarke's capacity for self-pity, something else remained. He evidently regards politicians such as himself as the victims of bullying journalists who have little or no regard for truth.

Last Monday Mr Clarke developed this thesis in a bizarre way. He called a dozen home affairs journalists to his office, and spent half an hour letting fly at three columnists: the Independent's Simon Carr, the Observer's Henry Porter, and Jenni Russell of the Guardian. Later that day, in a speech at the London School of Economics, he said that a "pernicious" and "even dangerous poison" was infecting the media's view of the world. He took exception to these journalists suggesting that this Government has authoritarian tendencies - obviously a very silly idea.

Mr Clarke also attributed phrases to his journalistic critics which they have scarcely, if ever, used, his apparent purpose being to make them sound almost unhinged. "Some commentators routinely use language like 'police state', 'fascist', 'hijacking our democracy', 'creeping authoritarianism', 'destruction of the rule of law', whilst words like 'holocaust', 'gulag' and 'apartheid' are regularly used descriptively of our society".

Mr Carr, who I should say is an old friend of mine, had aggravated Mr Clarke by writing a piece in this paper on 15 April in which he listed 34 "measures and defects" introduced by this government which, in his view, undermine our liberties. Mr Clarke fired off a 14-page rebuttal, which was posted on the Home Office's website. According to Mr Clarke, "of the 34 points Carr raised, 10 are more or less correct, 12 are plain wrong or severely misleading and another 12 fall into a grey area where they are right in parts or wrong in parts". Mr Carr believes this is an uncharitably harsh analysis.

The suggestion of these and other journalists that this Government is slowly eroding many traditional freedoms is one I happen to agree with. So, I imagine, would many Independent readers. The interesting question is why Mr Clarke should have caricatured the views of these three writers, and why he should have written a 14-page letter about a single newspaper article. Was he trying to create a fire-storm to deflect our attention from the row over freeing former convicts, which he knew was about to break? Possibly, but there must be a deeper explanation behind the Home Secretary's outburst that involves the Prime Minister.

New Labour's view of the Press, as adumbrated by the former red-top tabloid journalist Alastair Campbell, is that it is superficial, often inaccurate, confrontational and nasty. But until Mr Clarke weighed in, no one in Government had dared to suggest that anything should be done about it. Now Mr Clarke has taken Mr Campbell's analysis a step further by calling for statutory regulation of the Press. "My own view," he said in his speech at the LSE, "is that the code of conduct operated through the Press Complaints Commission ought to be put on a statutory basis". This means, one may reasonably suppose, that, in Mr Clarke's ideal world, opinion pieces such as those by Mr Norman and Mr Carr which contained information he regarded as wrong would somehow have to be corrected.

Mr Clarke may have no political future, and so many will be tempted to discount his views about statutory regulation of the Press. But I doubt his opinions are purely his own. They certainly reflect Mr Campbell's thinking, and they may well incorporate that of the Prime Minister, who grows increasingly exasperated by the media. So even if Mr Clarke goes, the threat of statutory control of the Press will remain.

Of course newspapers are sometimes inaccurate and beastly. It was ever thus. But Mr Clarke - note well - is not attacking them for being intrusive or threatening people's privacy. His complaint is that some of them - or, at any rate, journalists in some of them - are being unfair in their criticisms of the Government. In an odd way he helps to make the very point his critics have been making against him. Tightening controls on the Press is exactly what one would expect an authoritarian government to do.

Is the 'Spectator' losing it?

Matthew D'Ancona has only been editor of the Spectator for a few weeks, so it is far too early to make any considered assessment. Nonetheless, last week brought some disquieting developments on a magazine where, I should remind readers, I wrote a column until last year.

It was announced that Peter Oborne, for several years the Spectator's outstanding political editor, was standing down. Mr Oborne has not been sacked, but he has decided to take his column to the Daily Mail, which will give him a great deal more money. Might the Spectator have been able to keep him if it had been prepared to treble or quadruple the £500 a week he was receiving? After all, the magazine's sister publication, the Daily Telegraph, pays Boris Johnson more than £4,000 a column.

But no such transaction took place, and Fraser Nelson, a protégé of Andrew Neil, chief executive of the Spectator, has been appointed in Mr Oborne's stead. According to Mr D'Ancona, 'Since Fraser joined the Spectator in February, he has delivered [why not 'written'?] a series of superb articles . . . He is a formidable talent and will continue the Spectator's tradition of setting the agenda and causing controversy at Westminster.' Ugh! Actually Mr Nelson does seem quite good, though perhaps not as good as Mr Oborne.

An even more worrying development was the announcement of a weekly lifestyle section. Surely one of the main attractions of the Spectator has been that, virtually alone in the British Press, it did not have such a section. My spirits rose when I learnt that the new lifestyle editor, Lucia Van der Post, was jumping ship days after her appointment as a result of some contractual wrangle. Unfortunately the magazine has found someone called Sarah Standing to appoint in her place.

In both Mr Nelson's rapid advancement and the introduction of a lifestyle section we can trace the influence of Mr Neil. As I said in a previous column, I don't think he begins to understand the Spectator, though that is considered a snooty thing to say. Whenever he is interviewed, Mr D'Ancona makes a show of his independence from Mr Neil. Perhaps he is already adept at anticipating his master's wishes. In the empty managerial speak of his public announcements - as when referring to that unparalleled genius Fraser Nelson - he is already beginning to sound like him.

scmgox@aol.com

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
i100
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Sauce Recruitment: Partnership Sales Executive - TV

competitive + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: An award-winning global multi-media...

Sauce Recruitment: Account Director

£26017.21 - £32521.19 per annum + OTE $90,000: Sauce Recruitment: My client is...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Events Business) - Manchester - Urgent!

£30000 - £35000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Senior Sales Engineer - SaaS-based CX & Personalisation Solutions

£60-80k fixed + 20-30% bonus + benefits + Pre-IPO shares: Sphere Digital Recru...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea