Middle classes voice opposition to the politicians

BILL HAGERTY, editor of the People, was expecting a rough ride from BBC Radio 4's predominantly middle-class audience. But there was no public pillorying.

On Call Nick Ross the great British public delivered a surprise verdict. In David Mellor v the tabloid press, the majority came out against both Mr Mellor and politicians, described by one listener as 'champions of deceit, hypocrisy and corruption'.

It was all so different when the phone-in recently discussed press intrusion into the troubled marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales. The tabloids then emerged as the villains. When it comes to Mr Mellor's alleged affair with an actress, Joe Public appears to think it is Mr Mellor's behaviour, and not the conduct of the papers, that is scandalous.

Mr Hagerty played the public hypocrisy card early, citing people's tendency to complain about stories they still rushed to read. He need not have bothered.

A woman freelance writer argued that the press showed 'amazing self-control' with Royalty and the establishment.

Several callers were disgusted with Mr Mellor's appeal to the press to think about his children. That was something he had manifestly failed to do, they said.

A man from Hampstead, north- west London, asked the press to sniff out corruption wherever it lurked. Kelvin MacKenzie, editor of the Sun, should 'name the name' of the Cabinet minister he had claimed tried to persuade him to print allegations about Paddy Ashdown.

Ten minutes into the show and Mr Hagerty was feeling comfortable. Mr Ross confessed to being rather surprised.

The time was right for Mr Hagerty to bring up 'conflict of interest'. Was Mr Mellor really the man who should be looking at freedom of the press? He was a hypocrite who had 'used his family, his children . . . in his election literature' to present himself as a good family man.

For Mr Smith from Devon, sexual indiscretions were a sign of widespread moral deficiency. 'He has done something which I think is unforgivable, which is to cheat on his own family.'

Mr Liddle, from north-east Scotland, was suspicious about attempts to rein in newspapers. He thundered: 'We should know about these things because there are plenty of other really decent people around to replace David Mellor . . .'

Mr Jackson, from Mansfield, said talk of press restrictions only began when scandals involved Royalty and politicians. A man from West Yorkshire warned that he, not politicians, would choose what he read.

Ms Jack from Newtown, mid- Wales, giggling but unabashed, was surely the most refreshing. She had 'rushed out and read all the tabloids I could lay my hands on' because she loved scandalous stories involving the Government.

Some believed the 'press was out to get Mellor', and resented the 'self-righteousness' of the tabloids. But the 100 people who called Nick Ross backed the tabloids 2-1. The BBC said 13 of the 19 who spoke on the programme had been against Mr Mellor.

Mr Mellor condemned the Daily Mirror for a story about his wife's alleged eye problems as 'not in the public interest'.

He declined to confirm or deny whether his wife Judith, 43, was in danger of going blind. The Mirror said Mrs Mellor had retinitis pigmentosa, described as 'the biggest cause of blindness among Britain's working population' and added that 'emotional stress can worsen the effects'.

Mr Mellor admitted that his 18th wedding anniversary on Monday was 'not the happiest in the world'.

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