Captain Moonlight's Notebook: Lord of misrule

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The Independent Online
FOR connoisseurs of high pomposity, the pinnacle of last week's hoo-ha over Calcutt and Camillagate came from a short item in Wednesday's Guardian. The previous day the paper had carried the text of the letter that Lord McGregor of Durris sent to Sir David Calcutt, alleging that members of the Royal Family had breached their own privacy. The Wednesday story had McGregor improbably protesting that the leak had suffered from 'a damaging omission' which might suggest - heaven forfend - that he had doubted the integrity of Sir Robert Fellowes, the Queen's Private Secretary.

Such things matter a lot to McGregor, 71, that most unlikely champion of the rights of the people's press. His long career in public life has been based on burnishing his links of trust, good faith and cordiality with the great and the good. The leaked letter was a remarkable account of late-night telephone calls to Cabinet ministers and conferences with Palace officials, an odyssey of lobbying and fixing at the very highest level.

He is a professional insider. Like Basil Fawlty, he has never found it pleasant or necessary to deal with the riff-raff. When he was brought in to head the Press Complaints Commission in 1990, he insisted that the press representatives should be editors (no stand-ins allowed) and the lay members be paid-up members of the great, the good and the elderly (average age 67), all from the pages of Who's Who.

None is a lawyer, a species for which he harbours great antipathy, sometimes viciously expressed. He has consistently rubbished the efforts of the old Press Council and its last chairman, Lord Louis Blom-Cooper, although it is hard to detect much difference in the rulings and effectiveness of the two bodies.

Now, largely because of the fortuitous leak (nothing to do with him, naturally), it looks as though McGregor and the PCC have won a reprieve. He will be even happier that, in achieving victory, he has bloodied the nose of Sir David Calcutt, another pesky lawyer.

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