Donald Macintyre's Sketch: When one of us officially became one of them
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt. As Political Editor and then Chief Political Commentator, he previously covered the John Major and early Tony Blair era. He has written for the Daily Express, Sunday Times, Times and Sunday Telegraph, and Sunday Correspondent. He is the author of Mandelson and the Making of New Labour (2000).
Thursday 24 October 2013
Welcome Baron Finkelstein of Pinner in the County of Middlesex! To their lordships of course, this quaint 17th-century procedure is routine (incredible as it seems to the rest of us). But even for them, today was unusual.
For among the privileged spectators allowed into the Lords chamber were the new Tory peer’s friends, the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary. What Messrs Osborne and Hague saw – perhaps for the first time – was a ceremony for admitting the scarlet-robed new Lord Finkelstein in which everything was in its Merrie England place.
The Garter King of Arms, in his crazily over-the-top heraldic jacket (three golden lions passant, gardant etc) presented the Reading Clerk with royal Letters Patent (which you have to hope are not to be taken literally) “… that he may enjoy and use all the rights, privileges, pre-eminences, immunities and advantages which barons of Our United Kingdom have heretofore used and enjoyed...”
The new Baron, escorted by Lord (Sebastian) Coe, uttered the oath of allegiance. And it was over.
The new peer is a journalist, a commentariat star (and a very decent man). The benign presences of the Cabinet heavyweights might suggest to the uninitiated a warm relationship between press and government. But he works for a paper for which the regulatory Royal Charter, backed by the three main parties, is pretty much as the cross is for Dracula. And which just happened to be the next item on the peers’ agenda.
Labour’s Lord (Clive) Soley, who wanted to know what would happen if the newspapers refused to cooperate with a new body set up post-Leveson, has been a patron of the last-chance saloon since opening time 20 years ago, when he introduced a private members Bill on regulation – a “patient Lord”, in minister Lord Gardiner’s Shakespearian phrase.
But while some of the press believes in its heart that Leveson went too far, for Labour’s Lord [Alan] Sugar, his report – “a complete and utter waste of time” – went nothing like far enough. “The Daily Mail is a newspaper whose only true facts are the price and date on the front page,” he thundered.
But the day’s highlight came when Tory minister Lord Freud, who reputedly has 12 bedrooms in his two homes, was challenged to deny reports suggesting his colleagues blamed him for inventing the bedroom tax. “My Lords, a good idea has many fathers,” he said, modestly disavowing sole authorship. This was prudent, because he surely knows the real proverb. Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.
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