Tom Sutcliffe: MPs should beware the tempting limelight

Social Studies: The all-party composition of committees demands that Buggins gets a turn too

Share
Related Topics

I do hope this afternoon's meeting of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee is an undramatic affair, though obviously I'm not pinning a lot on those hopes. Even in ordinary times the appearance of Rupert Murdoch in front of a parliamentary committee would make it a standing room only affair. But in the current circumstances the matinee performance at Portcullis House may well result in crowd-crush fatalities unless access is carefully controlled. And the audience at home is likely to be substantial too – giving those who grind their lives away in the engine rooms of government a brief but heady taste of A-deck glamour.

Which is what I'm worried about really. I don't want this afternoon's session to be dull because I'm any less avid for sensation than anyone else. And I don't want it to be dull because lawyers on both sides have muffled the possibility of penetrating questions and candid answers. I want it to be dull because there are few things as bad for MPs' characters as an unaccustomed spotlight.

At least one man present deserves a bit of limelight – Tom Watson, who began worrying at a tiny exposed nub of bone years ago and eventually helped tug an entire skeleton into the light. Given his detailed knowledge of the affair – and the scorn poured on him at various times in the past few years – there would be a certain logic if his fellow committee members took a vow of silence and left it to him exclusively. But that sadly is very unlikely. The all-party composition of committees demands that Buggins gets a turn too – and Buggins, whoever he or she is, may find the temptation to showcase their own brilliance or moral probity irresistible. Or to subtly cut whoever preceded Buggins down in size a bit.

For all its merits, that's one of the problems with the committee system; it's an ensemble performance in which no one present really wants just a supporting role. It makes tenacity in a promising line of questioning far harder to achieve. And that defect is only likely to be exacerbated when the session in question is a sell-out melodrama about the resurgent power of Parliament. It's hard to imagine that there'll be an MP there who hasn't fantasised about their overnight reviews.

John Whittingdale, the committee chairman, promised over the weekend that they wouldn't be a "lynch mob". One can only hope so, though in previous sittings the committee as a whole (not all its members are guilty of grandstanding) has occasionally been reminiscent of those jubilant crowds you saw after the fall of Baghdad; every now and then an excited figure dashing forward to whack the statue of Saddam over the head with a sandal. Perhaps this afternoon the sense of occasion will sober them all up – and persuade them to abandon even the faintest whiff of histrionics. I've got my fingers crossed. They need to remember that they're not Columbo, turning with a lethal and deceptively innocuous afterthought. And they're not Atticus Finch, lone crusaders for truth against embedded prejudice. They're public servants whose best possible service will be to ensure that the spotlight – bright and unforgiving – never leaves those in the seats opposite them.





Can we really make dating less blind?



It's inconceivable – in hindsight – that we wouldn't want Clare Wood to have known more about George Appleton before making the fatal decision to turn her online relationship into a real world one. So it's tempting to conclude that Clare's Law – the proposal that people should have access to background checks on potential partners – is a fine idea. Think about it for a moment though and it's clear that the practicalities are very tricky indeed. It couldn't be a gender-exclusive entitlement, available only to women. Which would mean that everyone's criminal record would be accessible to the curious. And it would seem a bit perverse to exclude offences – such as road rage or GBH – which offer evidence of violence that hasn't previously been aimed at a domestic partner.

It isn't obvious either how you might distinguish between genuine enquiries and fishing expeditions (would applicants have to supply a sequence of increasingly affectionate emails to prove their emotional connection?) You might well argue that those convicted of violent acts should permanently forfeit their right to conceal the fact – but unless you can make that argument convincingly this law wouldn't work. Given that Clare Wood made repeated complaints about Appleton before being murdered it might be more practical to direct our indignation and energies at persuading police forces to take such complaints far more seriously than they sometimes appear to.



Sometimes a new word is the mot juste

John Humphrys gave an irascible growl yesterday while talking to Rory Cellan-Jones about the BBC Technology Correspondent's plan to map 3G coverage, using an app that anyone could download to their mobile phone.

Cellan-Jones's offence was to have used the term "crowd-sourcing" and he immediately made penitent noises about his choice of words. Why though? It might not be the most beautiful phrase in the English language but it describes a novel social phenomenon and it does so with efficiency and clarity.

I don't suppose that many of Today's audiences hadn't heard the term before – and those that hadn't could easily work out what it meant, since neither word in the compound is arcane or obscure. Cellan-Jones should have challenged Humphrys to come up with a better way of saying it.







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

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

 

Political satire is funny, but it also causes cynicism and apathy

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links