Thomas Sutcliffe: A salutary experience for Lord Goldsmith

Share

He was reportedly "incredibly cross" and "somewhat disappointed" when he discovered what had happened - which made me think the Blunkett Doctrine on civil liberties might usefully be invoked: "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear". Anyway, now Sir Ian Blair has apologised, offered an explanation which so far remains unexplained to the rest of us, and the matter has been declared closed with an intriguing briskness. They can be remarkably nimble, worms, and it's best to get the can lid back on as quickly as possible.

It isn't very clear whether what Sir Ian did was illegal or just peculiar. It isn't illegal, for example, to make a recording of one of your telephone conversations for your own use, and the law doesn't even require you to tell the person you're talking to when you're doing so. Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty was reported as saying that Sir Ian was in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, but when you look at Article 8 you find something so vaguely expressed that it seems to have been drafted as an exercise zone for lawyers, rather than as an effective bulwark against the overbearing state.

Clause one states that "everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence"; Clause two cites nine different reasons why you can legitimately interfere with this right. Perhaps Sir Ian thought his action was necessary for "the protection of the rights and freedoms of others". Perhaps he just wants to ensure that a notionally confidential (aka deniable) exchange is ultimately undeniable.

Whatever the case, there was a pleasing flavour of the biter bit, or at least chewed - given that Lord Goldsmith must have been present as the Cabinet considered further erosions of civil liberties as part of the Government's anti-terror legislation. Usually it's the other way round, and the bitten end up biting. Take Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt, for example, who 16 years ago went to the European Court of Human Rights after they had discovered that, as staff members of the National Council for Civil Liberties, they were under MI5 surveillance. Among other things, they argued that justifications of surveillance "in the interests of national security" offered the secret policeman a blank cheque.

Now, as members of a government that repeatedly draws on that usefully elastic phrase to defend the extension of police powers, they seem to have forgotten - or modified - their past indignation. Did the old fire still flicker in Patricia Hewitt when the Cabinet discussed lifting the longstanding ban on tapping MPs' phones at the beginning of this year? One hopes, at least, that the Attorney General's indignation and sense of invaded privacy will last long enough to inform his advice on the rights of the rest of us not to have spools start turning without our knowledge.

Don't blame Davina for this disaster

I feel sorry for Davina McCall, currently enjoying sole credit for BBC 1's lowest ever peak-time ratings share with her new chat show. When I first saw her on screen years ago on a Channel 4 dating programme her life-of-the-hen-party chumminess was winning and apposite. The act had staled considerably on Big Brother, and the BBC show is desperate - more like a cocktail party on the Titanic than a shot of Saturday night effervescence.

But you certainly can't accuse its presenter of being altered by success. Or spoilt for that matter. As far as I know she's never made any hubristic claims about her own talent or been guilty of diva-ish bad behaviour in her professional life. She's just the same as she ever was - and the blame for hiring her for a role to which she's painfully ill-suited has to be taken by others. She didn't build the sinking ship, she's just the figurehead.

* I looked in on the Ideal Home Show last week - always a richly comic biopsy of Middle England's notion of the good life - and was startled to find that this year's exhibition is devoted to the theme of sustainable living. This is a bit like Jeremy Clarkson announcing that he's taken up the cause of pedestrianisation - since, give or take the odd bit of salvaged paving slab or sustainable timber, the Ideal Home is a shameless promoter of conspicuous consumption, dedicated to frequent decorative makeovers and energy-gulping status-enhancers, like giant plasma screens and outdoor hot-tubs. "Every gesture, however small, helps", reads a pious line in the catalogue - but even the smallest gestures appear to be too much effort for some, such as the couple I saw admiring the Electronic Intelligent Toilet - a device which, for a very modest extra cost to the environment, will do with water sprinklers and hot air what the unenlightened achieve with a few swipes of the hand.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For once, Kerry Katona had the right idea

Dom Joly
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick