Letter from Simon Kelner

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The Independent Online

I know the world has turned into a funny old place, but I never thought I would write a column in defence of Jeremy Clarkson.

I know he's big enough and ugly enough (literally) to stand up for himself, but in this whole phonehacking scandal or, as Will Self put it, this epiphenomenal imbroglio, he is one of the very few people to have emerged with any credit at all. That's because, while everyone else is disowning friends and repudiating past associations, Jeremy has remained resolutely supportive and loyal to his disgraced and defenestrated friend, Rebekah Brooks.

One of the least edifying spectacles of this saga has been the willingness of politicians (largely on the Labour side) who have spent a large part of their careers dancing to Rupert Murdoch's tune (or "greasing up" in Neil Kinnock's memorable phrase) to queue up to express their disgust at the old man's ways, and their distaste for his lieutenants. So it's refreshing to see a display of constancy like Clarkson's. Of Ms Brooks, he wrote: "She has been a friend for a long time. She is now. And she always will be." Clarkson is never afraid of being unfashionable - look at the way he dresses - but surely this was taking it to extremes. The reason Clarkson's view is of any relevance is that he is a pivotal figure in what has become known as "the Chipping Norton Set", a group of metropolitan media types - including Ms Brooks - who have homes in this extremely pleasant corner of Oxfordshire. Just down the road lives the Prime Minister, who has been known to patronise some of their social gatherings.

In his article, Clarkson ignored the public perception of an unhealthy closeness between the PM and News International honchos, and simply said that business was never discussed over the steak and kidney. That conveniently misses the point, but at least Clarkson made an articulate and spirited defence of people he sees as friends and neighbours. I have another reason to admire Clarkson. I was once invited to dinner at his house, and after a splendidly argumentative evening, I reversed my car while waving goodbye to him (a difficult manoeuvre, it has to be said), and smashed straight into his £200,000 limited edition Ford. He couldn't have been more understanding, although, come to think of it, I've never been invited back.

Simon Kelner is Editor-in-Chief of The Independent, The Independent on Sunday and i