Thomas Sutcliffe: A salutary experience for Lord Goldsmith

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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

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