Richard Ingrams: Watch what we do, don't listen to what we say

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The Independent Online

When, in March 2003, the redheaded executive of News International and former editor of The Sun and the News Of The World, Rebekah Brooks, told the House of Commons committee "we have paid the police for information in the past", she did not mean that she had paid the police for information in the past.

"My intention," she now says in a letter to Keith Vaz MP, "was simply to comment generally on the widely held belief that payments had been made in the past to police officers."

So what was a statement of fact about her own actions was nothing of the kind. It was a comment, and not just any old comment, but a general comment by which she hopes us to understand that she was not referring just to her own newspaper but to the press in general. In fact, she made this clear by adding: "I was responding to a specific line of questioning on how newspapers get information."

Hiding behind this smokescreen of humbug, Brooks is anxious to avoid having to give details about any specific sums paid to specific officers – matters she would be very familiar with. But the cynicism of her response to Vaz again suggests somebody who is not too bothered by the truth or otherwise of her public statements. She has taken her lead from her boss Rupert Murdoch who apparently once said: "You tell these bloody politicians whatever they want to hear and when the deal is done you don't bother about it."

Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story

I lost any respect I might have had for Gordon Brown about 10 years ago when he made an attack on Oxford University for failing to take pupils from state schools. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer Brown instanced the case of a girl called Laura Spence from County Durham who had been refused admission to Magdalen College Oxford – "a scandal" he called it, though the college subsequently pointed out that Spence had come 10th in a competition for five places. Brown never withdrew the charge or acknowledged that he had got his facts wrong.

Nothing much has changed. This week David Cameron launched his own attack on Oxford. "I saw figures the other day that only one black person went to Oxford last year. I think that is disgraceful," he said.

And once again it was shown that Cameron had got his figures wrong, and that the actual figure was 27.

But, like Brown, Cameron has no intention of admitting a mistake. Like Brown, he has an interest in attacking the alleged elitism of Oxford in order to divert attention from the inadequacies of the state education system. These, after all, are his personal responsibility which he might be expected to do something about.

Heart-on-sleeve politics is always a mistake

"I am never merry when I hear sweet music," says Jessica in The Merchant Of Venice, a tendency she shares with the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, who told Jemima Khan in a New Statesman interview last week that he "cries regularly to music". It wasn't the best way of putting it because it doesn't make clear whether it's the music that makes him cry or whether he has a regular cry over, perhaps, tuition fees or the alternative vote system and the music is played to lift his spirits.

At any rate Clegg made the remark, not especially to elicit sympathy from the voters but to show what a sensitive fellow he is and this was a great mistake.

No politician should boast about his musical sensibilities. If he thinks the subject of music may come up, he should familiarise himself with all the leading pop groups of the day and the titles of their latest songs. If interviewed he should say how much he enjoys them all, along with his kids if he has any. It was the former Tory leader, the late Sir Edward Heath, who tried to make political capital out of his love of music. He even went around conducting orchestras, and look where it got him.

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