The Sketch: Whatever you do, it's probably best not to overdo it

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The Independent Online

"There might be a perception I was over doing it," Max Mosley said, explaining his caution about taking the News of the World into court for a second time. He was keen not to overdo it. "My father overdid it," he explained and it hadn't worked out so well. True, fascists did overdo things in those days. As a matter of fact, I once saw film of Oswald Mosley overdoing it in front of 20,000 British fascists in Olympia in 1937. He made Barack Obama sound like Val Doonican. It was then I stopped listening to soaring rhetoric. I'd felt a prickle, you see. It was like listening to Lucifer.

So, with a father like that, and a mother like Diana Mitford (they married in Goebbels's house, we learnt) it isn't surprising you grow up with unresolved tensions. And if you view his activities as a form of therapy interrogating these tensions then you can see the force in an argument for privacy. Maybe you think I'm overdoing it now.

But if you wanted a privacy law you'd buy one from Max Mosley. He is the sort of English gentleman that we don't see much any more. Quiet, careful, intelligent, steely underneath but modest, if that's the right word, in his peculiar situation.

"Do people snigger behind your back?" he was asked. "No, they are too dignified," he said. Damn! I struck out an entire sketch I'd prepared earlier.

His argument was based in part on the paper's confession in court: they'd tried to blackmail one of the women, threatening her with exposure if she didn't support their evidence. He said the dominion of tabloid editors was "a tyranny of semi-criminal people". Yes, and "the more they are examined the more evil they become". Despite the judgement in his favour, the paper had used the story to support their application to be Newspaper of the Year. They had been chastised but were not chastened.

Without wanting to be vindictive, Mr Mosley thought that a fine of 10 per cent of their turnover would attract their attention. It's what my earlier sketch called punitive damages.

He also wanted newspapers to be obliged to give people a full working day to apply for an injunction. It didn't seem unreasonable, the way he put it. Once your privacy has gone you can't get it back again.

The Press Complaints Commission was a) powerless and b) run by the people it was supposed to be regulating. "Like the mafia running a police station," he said.

Yes, no doubt. But would a privacy law allow Alan Keen, sitting there on the Culture committee, to claim £175,000 of double mortgage allowance from the taxpayer without it being reportable?

Probably it would. So we have to be careful with privacy. We don't want to overdo it.