Andy McSmith's Diary: They’ve got Leveson on the rack – but at least he’s not been locked up by the Serjeant at Arms
Our man in Westminster
If ever a man has had to be dragged kicking and screaming in front of a Commons committee, it is Lord Justice Leveson – the same Lord Justice Leveson whose report into the press recommended “six principles of openness” for journalists.
The judge has been involved in a stand-off with the Commons Culture, Media and Sport committee, who want him to practise some openness by appearing before them to answer questions. His first reaction was to refuse on the grounds that, under the separation of powers, no judge should have to go before Parliament to explain himself. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, agreed.
But Parliament’s clerks, who also know a thing or two about constitutional law, argued that the exemption does not apply to someone who has headed a government inquiry into a matter of public policy, even if he is a judge. The committee’s chairman, John Whittingdale, even dropped a dark hint about deploying Parliament’s formidable power to summon witnesses, whereupon Lord Justice Leveson, like Rupert Murdoch before him, agreed to appear.
Round two of this contest is, I hear, over the date. Lord Justice Leveson claims to be too busy to appear before the parliamentary term ends on 18 July. He wants the hearing delayed until the autumn. Mr Whittingdale is saying that the committee can meet in the recess, if necessary.
Round three will be over which questions his lordship is prepared to answer. When his report came out, he avowed that he would not add to or comment on it, but he cannot deflect every question from MPs by drawing their attention to what is in his findings. The Government is proposing a Royal Charter to regulate press ethics. There is no mention of that in the Leveson report.
A mischievous MP might also want to ask Lord Justice Leveson why at least part of his report was cut and pasted from an inaccurate Wikipedia entry, which is how a Californian student named Brett Straub came to be all too falsely cited as a founder of The Independent.
MPs are not always so bold when handling High Court judges. Press hostility to the Leveson report has helped stiffen their backbones this time. Mr Whittingdale has also been egged on by the cerebral Tory MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg, an aficionado of constitutional history, who points out that back in 1689, when Parliament was held in greater respect, the Commons not only summoned two judges, Sir Francis Pemberton and Sir Thomas Jones, but had the Serjeant at Arms lock them up.
Scottish Labour disunited with union comrades
Unite, Britain’s biggest union, is getting all litigious in a dispute over how the next Labour candidate in a safe Scottish seat is to be chosen. The party’s National Executive Committee has put Falkirk Labour Party into “special measures”, because of allegations that Unite was trying to fix the selection by recruiting union members to the local party and paying their fees for them. Unite’s General Secretary Len McCluskey is furious. He has written to members vowing to challenge the NEC “by legal action if necessary”.
Unite’s Scottish regional secretary, Pat Rafferty, meanwhile, has already reached for the lawyers over a matter of resounding triviality. Every parliamentary publication refers to the disputed seat, which is being vacated at the next election by the errant former Labour MP Eric Joyce, as “Falkirk”. But in May, Mr Rafferty issued a press statement defending his union’s role in trying to get a union-friendly candidate adopted in Mr Joyce’s place, in which the seat was named as “Falkirk West”. Falkirk West is a constituency that exists for the purpose of electing the Scottish Parliament, but not for general elections. Mr Joyce suggested Mr Rafferty was “confused”.
As a result, a solicitor’s letter has winged its way to Mr Joyce, saying, “Our client has in no way ‘confused’ the details of the two relevant constituency Labour parties. They are clear that the Westminster parliamentary constituency is “Falkirk”, of which 75 per cent of Labour Party members belong to Falkirk West Constituency and 25 per cent to Falkirk East Constituency Labour Party…there is therefore no confusion.
How reassuring that, in this time of austerity, the comrades have found something they can really argue about.
As a tennis guru Pippa’s no ace...
Pippa Middleton is not just somebody’s sister, you know. She is a writer.
To her book on party planning, and her column in Vanity Fair, she has added another appearance as the guest diarist in The Spectator.
There she turns her expert eye to Wimbledon, offering her tips on the likely winner of the men’s singles. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is “worth a small punt”, she suggested, but “I’d rather follow my heart and back Federer”.
A great future in sports journalism eludes her.
Just who is going too far, too fast?
When Ed Balls and George Osborne appeared together on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show last weekend, Balls could not resist ribbing Osborne over his long-distance running, warning him not to go “too far, too fast”.
That is the political mantra Balls recites when he is attacking the Chancellor’s strategy for bringing down the deficit.
But if anyone has been driving too far too fast, it is Balls, who was caught speeding earlier this year in Yorkshire. Now this week he has copped a £350 fine for driving through a red light.
Fat fine for Pickles’ ‘lean’ department
George Osborne’s bad joke about the Communities Department, under the stewardship of Eric Pickles, being a “model of lean government” is a sly reference to the minister’s girth. But his department is not as “lean” as the Chancellor thought. It has been fined £20,000 for running up a £217m overdraft. The department is forever lecturing councils on how to be frugal with money.
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