Muckraking hacks are lowest of the low - say MPs

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The Independent Online
MPs really do loathe journalists. Or should that read fear them?

In a survey for the Independent, politicians put journalists at the bottom of the integrity league - below even opinion pollsters. But the same survey of MPs, conducted by Harris, reveals that most politicians, Labour and Tory alike, do not believe that what they do in the privacy of their mistresses' bedrooms is a matter for public interest. It is not on, apparently, for seedy Grub Street to question what goes on in public people's private lives.

Surveys of the public's attitude shows that voters draw little distinction between the gutter ethics of MPs and journalists, placing the two professions on more or less an even par. But the representative sample of 167 MPs who took part in the Harris survey made clear where they stand: 77 per cent said they held a low or very low opinion of journalists' honesty and moral standards. Only building contractors plumbed anything like the same depths of low esteem.

Doctors came out top, followed by police officers, teachers, and lawyers. Trade union leaders came sixth, above directors of large companies.

Tory MPs thought company directors were generally fine upstanding chaps, but could not bring themselves to say the same for trade union leaders. Those ratings were reversed for Labour MPs - suggesting that Tony Blair's parliamentary party has a way to go before it wholeheartedly embraces the boss classes. Pollsters fared particularly badly with Tory MPs - but then the party is at its lowest ebb of opinion poll support since, well, any pollster can remember. Westminster outsiders, however, might find just the smallest trace of hypocrisy inside the figures: 57 per cent of MPs said their private behaviour did not affect their fitness for public office, while 37 per cent said it did. The poll found that Labour MPs were marginally more prudish: 41 per cent said private indiscretions should rule an MP unfit for office; only 36 per cent of Tories thought so.

The survey found surprising allegiances among some Labour MPs: asked whom they would vote for in the French elections, 8 per cent said Edouard Balladur and 8 per cent Jacques Chirac, both right-wingers.

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Overall, Jacques Chirac came out top with 42 per cent, with Lionel Jospin, the socialist candidate, a close second with 31 per cent. But it looks as though some Labour MPs need to brush up their French.

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